PARK CITY, UTAH – JANUARY 23: (L–R) José Esteban Alenda, Maximiliano Rivas, Glorimar Marrero Sánchez, Isel Rodríguez, Pedro Juan Lopez, and Amaya Izquierdo attend the 2023 Sundance Film Festival “La Pecera (The Fishbowl)” premiere at the Egyptian Theatre on January 23, 2023 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
By Lucy Spicer
It’s 2017, and Noelia has had enough. After experiencing renewed pain and bleeding, she begrudgingly goes to the doctor to learn that her cancer has returned and metastasized. Her boyfriend, Jorge, wants Noelia to seek further treatment, but there’s a reason she had been hiding her recent pain from him — she doesn’t want any additional treatment. Even as her health rapidly declines, Noelia does the one thing she really wants: She returns to her childhood home on the idyllic Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Writer-director Glorimar Marrero Sánchez has crafted a lyrical, intimate story of autonomy in grief with her feature-length debut, La Pecera (The Fishbowl), which premiered January 23 at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. Deftly played by Isel Rodríguez, the character of Noelia is fiercely uncompromising once she decides how to spend her remaining time, and her refusal to waver brings about moments of joy and beauty as well as the inevitable physical — and emotional — pain.
The subject of illness is a personal one for Marrero Sánchez. “In 2013, my mother died of colorectal cancer,” she reveals at the film’s post-premiere Q&A. “At that stage, I was working in short films, but I wanted to develop a long story. But I didn’t want to work from a biographic point of view, so I decided to develop the character of Noelia in order to work with that kind of disease.”
Disease is also represented in the film’s setting. Though Vieques resembles a paradise to Noelia, the island is no stranger to illness and death — sickness rates are disproportionately high on the small isle due to pollution at the hands of the U.S. Navy, who used Vieques for bombing and other military exercises for decades.
But Vieques is where Noelia wants to be no matter what, even if she can’t get her prescriptions filled there, and even with Hurricane Irma fast approaching. “She’s pretty obstinate, you know?” remarks Rodríguez. “She decides something and that’s it. … She’s an only child, so no one’s gonna tell her what to do; she decides for herself. She’s an artist, and she won’t let anybody control her.”
These choices are how Noelia reclaims her sense of self, with full knowledge of what is to come. The film’s cinematography, at times surreal but always based in nature, keeps us close to Noelia; we see her determination grow stronger even as her body grows weaker. “For me, it was very important to stay intimate,” explains Marrero Sánchez. “We were very focused on the intimacy. Being close was essential.”