Sunday marked the world premiere of Lester Alfonso’s documentary memoir Birthmark at the ReFrame Film Festival. Birthmark delves into the process of making this film and Alfonso’s personal journey to rewrite the story of his birthmark.
As a Peterborough resident, Alfonso features the city prominently in the film. Growing up in the Philippines, Alfonso was often blamed for tribulations in his family because of the superstition that a birthmark on your bum is bad luck.
The film goes on to explore his difficult relationship with his birthmark in his adult life, as well as the stories behind other people’s spots. It is relatable to any audience member who has grown up with a flaw, and the psychological effect they have experienced because of it. I truly enjoyed this film for a number of reasons, including Alfonso’s music choices and the general aesthetic of the film as a whole.
The local shots of Peterborough and in particular Trent Radio helped me as an audience member to connect even more as they were familiar to me.
It felt as though he had kaleidoscoped his mind into a film, while still keeping the focus on the traumatizing narrative surrounding his birthmark. At moments it didn’t feel as though I were watching a documentary, with shots of Alfonso in his daily life weaved into the story telling amid interviews with strangers. Parts of it even felt film noir.
For anyone reading who isn’t a cinephile like myself, it’s a genre of film marked by a mood of pessimism, fatalism, and menace. Aside from content it is known for its style of storytelling, and this involves mystery and suspense. Also notable components are the use of flashbacks and an omniscient narrator. This genre yielded a lot of cool crime dramas like Chinatown, Pulp Fiction, and Memento. Alfonso’s Birthmark was not a crime drama. However the film did contain elements of the film noir genre.
Its creator, who was also the subject, narrated the film. It contained clips from a variety of films and older commercials, even some clips from Alfonso’s previous films. I really liked how this was done, and it went well with him narrating. There is certainly a sense of darkness; you come to understand the impact that the birthmark placement had on Alfonso’s entire life. There was suspense surrounding the reveal of this birthmark, which takes place towards the end of the film.
I don’t want to spoil anything about the reveal because it was my favourite part. It was surprising yet inevitable, which is what made it such a great moment to watch.
I believe that anyone can watch this film and take something away from it. When it comes to anything one perceives as a flaw, it is common that the individual feels as if they are the ones who have to carry the burden of having this flaw. However, what that individual seems to forget is that each and every one of us has our own burden of our own flaws.
This film shows people talking about these spots, whether or not they perceive them as flaws, and telling the stories behind them. In turn, Alfonso tells his own story, learning more about himself through these people he has something in common with. If Alfonso’s vision was to make a modern masterpiece he has succeeded. I highly recommend watching this film.