JDIFF Review – Eliza Lynch: Queen of Paraguay

Filmmaker Alan Gilsenan examines the mystery and the myth of Eliza Lynch, an Irish woman who became Paraguay’s uncrowned queen in the 1860s.

Eliza Lynch led a fascinating life; she and her mother fled Ireland during the Famine, after the death of Eliza’s father. In France she was tricked into an illegal marriage before finding true love with the man who would go on to be President of Paraguay; Francisco Solano López.

In order to tell Lynch’s story, Gilsenan made the decision to combine his documentary interviews with historians and descendants of Eliza Lynch with a scene stealing performance from Maria Doyle Kennedy. Doyle Kennedy takes on the role of Eliza Lynch herself and her narration turns to drama, as though Lynch’s ghost hangs over the film telling her story, in her own words. As such, Doyle Kennedy brings some humanity to what could be a rather dry historical documentary, and breathes new life into a woman whose story has long been twisted by rumour.

Eliza Lynch’s story is told in a succinct and engaging manner. Gilsenan blends his talking heads together in a fluid and natural way, blending English and Spanish language interviews together in order to bring Lynch’s story to life. Doyle Kennedy’s frequent narrative and almost spectre like appearances also keep the tale going and her performance also gives the audience an understanding of why this woman captivated the man who loved her, as well as the women of her adopted home. However, when the film reaches the events of the Paraguayan War with Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, also known as The War of the Triple Alliance, the focus falters.

There is little doubt that the events of The War of the Triple Alliance had a deep and lasting impact on Eliza Lynch, and also showed her to be a strong and proud woman – since she buried her lover and her son with her bare hands, after they were killed – but this is also where the film’s focus shifts from the charismatic title character, onto the tactics of war. Doyle Kennedy’s Lynch does not appear on screen for some time, meaning that the film turns into a war documentary for what feels like an exceptionally long time. However, once we return to Lynch and the impact the war had on her life, the film finds its feet again.

Eliza Lynch: Queen of Paraguay is an examination of an Irish woman who went from poverty to be de facto first lady of a Latin American country. Gilsenan’s choice to dramatise Lynch, and Maria Doyle Kennedy’s performance, breathe new life into the story, and Eliza Lynch is revealed to be a proud and strong woman, far from the whore she is depicted as. However, a more skilful and integrated telling of The War of the Triple Alliance was needed to allow the film to truly flow.

Rating: 3.5/5

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