Review: Singing on the Rooftops

Written and directed by Enric Ribes, co-written by Isa Campo, Xènia Puiggrós and Marta Vivet, a tribute to an artist, considered the last drag queen in the final days of Barcelona’s ‘Barrio Chino’ red light district Gilda Love, who continues to take to the stage every night at the age of ninety.

When most people think of documentaries, they probably imagine heavy topics with harsh truths or a barrage of factual information but Singing on the Rooftops is probably the furthest you can get from that. It’s exceptionally simple and exploring the daily life of a dedicated drag queen and an exceptionally kind and generous person. It’s always a delight to watch someone holding onto their passions at the grand age of ninety and Gilda is genuinely inspiring for finding that much energy to perform night after night. Gilda also brings a lovable sense of humour, it’s very self-aware and honest, which is a huge part of the film’s charm.

The other aspect of that charm is the simplicity, it almost feels like it should be fiction in how surprisingly compelling watching Gilda’s daily life is. The atmosphere is utterly natural, it moves slowly but surely and is consistent throughout. One of the interesting choices is that some of the information could easily be interpreted in a scandalous fashion, but the filmmakers choose to remain grounded. Even the child abandonment alone could be interpreted much differently but instead it just creates a beautiful relationship between the child and Gilda. It’s a wonderful example of generosity and kindness, and focusing on the positives.

It can hold back a little too much at times, there’s clearly a fascinating history to be learned from Gilda Love but Enric Ribes chooses to solely focus on the present. Granted, the film does still work more than well enough without it but it would have been great to create an even deeper connection. It also would have let the film explore queer history further, even though it undoubtedly recognises and appreciates it. Similarly as it acknowledges the limitations and challenges at Gilda’s age, it’s a big ask performing nightly let alone looking after a toddler.

Singing on the Rooftops is full of heart, compassion and sweetness, it’s the perfect dose of wholesome content. It’s unwaveringly natural and charming, it takes a simple observant style and runs with it, and it works surprisingly well. It would have been the cherry on top to dive into Gilda’s past but regardless, it’s a wonderful experience and loving recognition of the older generation and queer history.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Sheffield DocFest 2022

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