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Blood moon whips up patriarchal hysteria in coming-of-age Cannes movie

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“Mi Bestia”, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s parallel segment ACID, follows a 13-year-old Bogota girl grappling with adolescence amid an impending lunar eclipse said to bring the devil to earth. FRANCE 24 spoke to director Beltrán, whose debut feature offers a visually bold study of patriarchal oppression in her native Colombia.

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Coming-of-age flicks with a distinctly feminist edge have been a staple of the Cannes Film Festival of late, notably landing the Critics’ Week Grand Prize last year with Amanda Nell Eu’s playfully rebellious “Tiger Stripes”.  

Set in the strict environment of a Muslim girls’ school in Malaysia, Eu’s debut offered an original take on the experience of menstrual metamorphosis and the shifting dynamics at play between classmates. This year, Cannes is giving festivalgoers a chance to experience those dynamics through a virtual reality project that is part of a new “Immersive” section at the world’s premier film shindig. 

“Maya: The Birth of a Superhero” is designed as an empowering interactive journey through puberty and the stigmas surrounding menstruation. Created and co-directed by Indian artist and women’s rights activist Poulomi Basu, it puts its audience in the role of a South Asian girl as she navigates a stifling family environment and a London classroom full of bullying teenagers.  

The immersive VR technology allows viewers to fight back using mystical superpowers, riding across a blood red lagoon on a giant tampon as they head for a showdown with a demonic octopus whose tentacles symbolise the debilitating pain caused by endometriosis. 

"Maya: The Birth of a Superhero" is one of eight VR works competing in the festival's new "Immersive" section.
Maya © Courtesy of JAPC

Blood moons stirring up fears of a reckoning with Satan form the backdrop to Beltran’s Cannes debut “Mi Bestia”, set in the 1990s Bogota the filmmaker experienced as a teenager. The film follows 13-year-old Mila – brilliantly played by newcomer Stella Martinez – as she grapples with adolescence and her changing body in a strict Catholic school run by nuns and a challenging home environment, tailed by her absent mother’s creepily protective boyfriend David. 

An impending lunar eclipse triggers a frenzy to buy holy water and hide unbaptized children as the nuns warn of the devil’s coming and news broadcasts offer rolling coverage of young girls mysteriously disappearing. Afro-Colombian family helper Dora (Mallely Aleyda Murillo Rivas) is the only adult offering valuable companionship but the real solace for Mila comes from stepping out into the wilderness to discover her true self – with a touch of the supernatural. 

“Mi Bestia” premiered in the ACID segment, a platform dedicated to emerging talent that has helped showcase the likes of Claire Denis and Kaouther Ben Hania. FRANCE 24 spoke to France-based Beltrán about filming her native Colombia, the meaning of her movie and its daring cinematography. 


How did you come up with the idea for the film and why set it in 1990s Bogota? 

I’ve lived in France for 17 years now and I think the distance has allowed me to put things into perspective, to see things about my home country that sometimes one doesn’t realise when living there. More than specific events I remember a certain atmosphere about Bogota in the 1990s. There were frequent power cuts, we would gather in the dark around candles. There was this prophecy according to which the devil would soon be upon us. There was even a countdown on the radio. I wanted to convey this atmosphere and show what it meant to grow up as a young girl in such a society at that moment in time. 

I wanted to talk about a time before the internet, how it shaped our sensibility, our imagination and our ability to fantasise. Television was a constant, violent presence but one that stayed behind when you left the home. When Mila wanders outside and steps into the wilderness, she finds space to think, imagine and discover herself – in a way that is harder to imagine today, because now we are constantly exposed to a flow of information. 

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77th Cannes Film Festival: ‘An enigma about a trans woman who ran from Gaza’ (2024) © France 24 (Renaud Lefort, Juliette Montilly)

Is society’s fear of women the real subject of your film? 

There’s this Manichean dualism in Colombian society, in which fear of the devil is almost as strong as love of God. I’ve always wondered why this fear is also associated with women. Of course this is not exclusive to Colombia. It dates back at least to the Inquisition. It’s a fear of menstrual blood, of the unknown, of the mysterious. The rumours about girls disappearing are part of a desire to exert control over women, to keep them at home, ostensibly for their own protection. But we often don’t see where the danger really comes from.  

There is more fear of violence than actual violence in your film. Is that what David’s character stands for? 

In many ways, fear is the real violence and freeing ourselves from this fear is a form of liberation. There are, of course, real dangers and sometimes fear inspires caution and is therefore necessary. But I think this constant fear of others explains why Colombian society is so violent.  

David’s character is supposed to embody a form of protection but it’s quite the opposite. Which begs the question, what is the danger and where does it come from? 

Mila doesn’t get a lot of female support, aside from her relationship with the family helper. What does Dora’s character represent? 

All women are not necessarily supportive of one another, it’s not a given, and Mila also has a solitary character. What Dora passes on to her is not just the experience of an older woman. She embodies the Afro-Colombian culture, which, like indigenous culture, has its own set of beliefs, its diversity, and its specific relationship with nature – which the nuns see as diabolical. It’s this powerful link with nature that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had in mind when he said that Europeans had misunderstood Latin American. There is still a lot of racism in Colombian society, a mistrust of what is different, and this also breeds violence. 


Why did you opt for such a striking cinematography? 

With Sylvain Verdet, the director of photography, we wanted to create a world that was neither neutral nor realistic, something that would convey the subjectivity of Mila’s experience, creating an atmosphere that envelops her. We opted for a slow frame rate to underline this idea that we’re perceiving things the way she does too. We were conscious that this could be oppressive for viewers, but we wanted to picture the oppressive atmosphere surrounding her. 

How did you find your lead actress? 

I didn’t want to go through a traditional casting process with hundreds of girls. I actually came across Stella Martínez while looking for an actress to play Dora’s character. It was a dance centre where the Afro-Colombian community tends to gather. Stella was one of the only girls dancing on stage who was not Afro-Colombian. I saw at once that there was something very powerful, very magnetic about her, and that she was already familiar with this subculture. 

And how does it feel to be here in Cannes? 

It’s my first time in Cannes and it’s an extraordinary feeling to actually be here presenting a movie. I am conscious of the risks we took with this film, particularly from a visual point of view. And so I am very grateful to ACID and to the filmmakers who chose to back us.  


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