Foreign Puzzle is an intimate documentary that captures the journey of an inspiring Mexican American dancer as she communicates the impermanence of life through dance while juggling the roles of a recently divorced parent of a 6-year-old, a choreographer and a primary school teacher amidst intensive treatments for breast cancer.
"Foreign Puzzle" is a film created with the utmost sensitivity.
The story of a dancer, mother, teacher, human, confronted with the possibility of her own mortality through her journey with cancer, the film is about so much more than illness. It is about the sacred act of dancing, in the midst of crisis. It is about dancing, no matter who you are and what your life consists of. It is about the sacredness of human relationships. And ultimately, it is about the triumph of human creativity that bolsters us in times of uncertainty and sends ripples throughout the world in ways inexpressible through language.
For 18 months, the film follows the struggles of Sharon Marroquin, an accomplished choreographer and modern dancer in Austin, Texas. Cancer affects the entire family unit. When she gets diagnosed with breast cancer, Dali her son is five. Sharon and Pepe got divorced two months before her diagnosis. She needs support, Pepe needs space and Dali needs his parents. Like any mother, Sharon is very worried for her son. How does breast cancer affect all of their needs? Dali is at a perfect age to process complex concepts of life and death in very simplistic terms. How does his understanding of life and death influence Sharon’s fears?
Suspended between life and death, she begins to channel her uncertainty about mortality into an artistic project. The artistic project, The Materiality of Impermanence, and the subsequent creative process allows her to escape to another realm that is not confined by physical limitations, disease, child-rearing, teaching and running a home. How this escape heals and shapes Sharon’s perceptions of life, death and living forms the narrative arc of the film. At its heart, the film is about love and living in the moment. The sheer resilience of the protagonist to put aside her pain and push through the insurmountable hurdles imposed on her by life and create a beautiful, raw and honest dance that embodies the brutality of the disease and the beauty of the human spirit will move and inspire every viewer.
There is so much for all of us to learn from the film "Foreign Puzzle". First, the very subject of life and death is so universal and yet the film is so personal, that it serves as an excellent example of making a film that is both personal and universal. Secondly, the craft of putting together and juxtaposing what I consider "documentary gold" moments, like the content of the storybook being read out to Dali coinciding with the larger theme of the film, or moments where children come together with parents in these parallel ways, truly brings the film to focus out onto the larger picture of parenting, caregiving, and the subject of life and death. Last but not least, the film raises some extremely important considerations about the relationship between the subject and the filmmaker. For me, the moment when the filmmaker chooses to stay with six-year-old Dali is one of the most poignant moments in the film. It shows humanity and serves as such a great example for future filmmakers.
Foreign Puzzle is one of the most powerful and potentially most influential films that I’ve ever seen that could be used as an educational film in schools for social work and other helping professions across the country and internationally.
Foreign Puzzle presents a portrait of a dancer in the process of making a concert piece while she juggles raising her child and receives treatment for breast cancer. We witness the artist in rehearsal integrating the themes of her current struggles into her work. We see how facing mortality, illness, survival and single parenthood find expression in her movement vocabulary. At other moments, Jeyeram balances her storytelling with scenes from the dancer's daily life; interwoven these two strands yield insights into creative practice as healing. We screened the film in my documentary production class with Chithra as a guest filmmaker. The portrait is an ideal case study for discussing ethics, negotiating access, and subject representation. It demonstrates how a strong collaborative relationship between subject and filmmaker can build a specific and intimate story.