Isabel (Luz Maria Rondon), an elderly woman living in a middle-class neighborhood in Puerto Rico, has just become a widow. Her husband has passed away, and her adult daughter is staying with her to help her with the funeral. As Isabel mourns this loss, she doesn’t know how to occupy her time moving forward. The uncertainty changes, however, when she crafts a beautiful custom-made funeral for her husband—and it catches the attention of Toña (Sharon Riley), a pious but domineering woman who involves herself in community events, including local funerals. Toña is the self-appointed leader of a coterie of gossipy elderly women from the neighborhood, and she enlists Isabel to put her unusual talents to good use and design custom, idiosyncratic funerals for her ailing neighbors. As Isabel agrees to perform this peculiar line of work—offering seniors a chance to dictate how their lives should be honored, before they die—she also finds new purpose in her own life.
Macha Colón’s Perfume de Gardenias endearingly foregrounds nuanced older characters—that we typically don’t see as protagonists—within a colorful and dynamic narrative, bolstered by darkly comedic humor and an authentic depiction of Puerto Rican culture and generational differences. With infectious energy, Colon’s feature directorial debut explores grief and death in a refreshingly candid manner, and delivers whimsical storytelling that is both lively and poignant. —Jose Rodriguez
Gisela Rosario Ramos is Macha Colón, a Puerto Rican artist. She received grants from the Art Matters Foundation and NALAC, and the United States Artists Fellowship. She is part of Northwestern University’s Puerto Rican Artist Initiative. Perfume de Gardenias is her first feature film.