In her debut feature, writer-director Antonella Sudasassi opens with a scene in which Isabel (Daniela Valenciano) is carefully decorating a cake at a family gathering. At the same time, she deals with her two daughters and other responsibilities. Her mother-in-law redoes the frosting design (of a cross) and leaves the kitchen. Isabel tries to return the design to her original creation but gives up and plunges her hands into the cake, destroying it. But this is just her fantasy. In real-life, she passes on the cake, in its original form, to her family. In this way, we are introduced to the heroine of The Awakening of the Ants (El despertar de las hormigas), a 28-year-old who is trying to balance her life as a wife, mother and daughter-in-law with her work as a seamstress, which she carries on from her home.
Isabel’s family is not truly poor, but poor enough that whenever Isabel retreats to her work room, she has to remove a lightbulb from another room and install it in her room, returning the bulb when she returns to her family obligations.
Isabel’s husband—and everyone else in their family and community—expects Isabel to continue bearing children, at least until she produces a boy. But Isabel doesn’t want to have more children. She wants to expand her seamstress business, and she even finds a retail space in town that she can rent. She also uses some of her profits to secretly buy birth control pills.
It’s not that Isabel’s family is mean or overbearing, it’s just that they are so set in traditional gender roles that they can’t imagine that Isabel would think of anything else.
As for the title, which Sudasassi previously used for an unrelated short, it refers to the fact that ants act automatically for their society without the slightest hint of individual desires.
The Awakening of the Ants is a quiet and utterly believable portrayal of a conflict that is widespread far beyond Costa Rica.