Thanks to a remarkable quirk of fate, Fernando Trueba’s new film El Olvido Que Seremos – set in Colombia in the 1980s – has become a pertinent film for our times. Or, as Trueba likes to call it, it’s now “curiously significant”.
Trueba, an Oscar-winning film director and Grammy Award-winning music producer, finished the film in early 2020, just in time to get it into the 2020 Cannes Film Festival. It looks at the life of prominent Colombian doctor and human rights activist Héctor Abad Gómez through the eyes of his only son, writer Héctor Abad Faciolince, via the latter’s much admired memoir El Olvido Que Seremos. As I write, it’s screening at Australia’s Spanish Film Festival as Forgotten We’ll Be, but in England it was given the title Memoirs Of My Father.
Héctor Abad Gómez, who was assassinated in 1987, campaigned strongly for the introduction of clean water supplies to the poor areas of Medellín, and was acutely aware of the harm that disease-carrying bacilli can do, and how vaccinations can counter them. The scene where he unexpectedly and slyly vaccinates his son is so well done, so full of emotional resonance, you squirm as if you’re bracing for the needle yourself.
Hand-washing scene saga
There are a couple of times in the film when Hector Sr (Spanish actor Javier Cámara) admonishes Hector Jr (Nicolás Reyes Cano) for not washing his hands.
As Trueba was preparing the film for general release – it had secured dates in the US, UK, France, Italy, Spain and Colombia – “I remember some people telling me, why don’t you cut the scene of the boy washing his hands? What’s the interest in that?” he says. “And I replied, it’s very interesting because the father was a doctor, hygienist, epidemiologist and an apostle of vaccination – he did the first big, big, big, massive vaccination of polio in the world, he was congratulated by the world. I shouldn’t cut that.”
Then COVID struck. “The comic thing is the sales agents had made a sales trailer of the movie, then changed the trailer after the pandemic to put the washing hands scene in,” Trueba says, laughing. See it for yourself in the trailer below.
A stunning, eloquent scar
I’ve seen El Olvido Que Seremos twice now. It’s a film that gets more interesting the more you immerse yourself in it. It reminded me of my childhood in Africa, where there were similar problems with water supplies in certain areas. Vaccinations were part of our childhood. Tetanus, polio, yellow fever … you name them, we probably had them.
I still have a little scar on my left arm from a smallpox vaccination. It’s beautifully shaped, like a little moon. I’d would admire it in classes at school when the lessons were boring. (Yes, I’m vain and we were more starved of entertainment in those days than schoolkids are now.) I’m grateful for the protection those vaccines gave me and for how they helped eradicate diseases in much of the world.
The ‘poem in the pocket’ and death list
Forgotten We’ll Be is not the most memorable or alluring film title. But once you know the context, you’ll understand why it was chosen. It’s taken from a poem that Hector Sr had in his pocket on the day he was murdered. The poem was wrapped around a copy of a death list: people the government wanted killed. Héctor Abad Gómez’s name was on it.
The poem’s significance is explored on the Granta website, from which I have taken the first four lines and translation.
Ya somos el olvido que seremos.
El polvo elemental que nos ignora
y que fue el rojo Adán y que es ahora
todos los hombres, y que no veremos.
Already we are the oblivion that we shall be.
The elemental dust that does not know us
And that was red Adam and that now is
All men, and that we shall not ever see. M5R
Photos courtesy of the Moro 2022 Spanish Film Festival and Palace Films