Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Argentina/France/Spain/Japan, 2001. 4k Films, Wanda Visión S.A., Cuatro Cabezas, TS Productions. Screenplay by Lucrecia Martel. Cinematography by Hugo Colace. Produced by Lita Stantic. Production Design by Graciela Oderigo. Film Editing by Santiago Ricci. Toronto International Film Festival 2001.
The sultry air of summer thickens the atmosphere from the opening shot of this fascinating famly drama, in which characters lounge on the deck of their swimming pool until clan matriarch Mecha (a superb performance by Graciela Borges) trips and falls in a drunken stupor and cuts herself badly on the glasses she was holding. Taking to her bed and worsening her already sour mood, she calls her eldest son Jose (Juan Cruz Bordeu, Borges’ real-life son) home from Buenos Aires where he runs the family’s business with his father’s former mistress and with whom he is, unbeknownst to the family, having an affair. Mecha’s cousin Tali, played by the luminous Mercedes Morán, is also on hand, bringing her children around to keep Mecha’s younger kids company, chattering sympathetically to her cousin in her sick bed while, at home, criticizing the woman she thinks isn’t actually good at seeing herself clearly. The conflicts and frustrations of these characters make up the narrative of this bewitching film, set in an idyllic summer home located in the middle of an untameable natural environment, the place thriving with the natural rhythm of familial warmth as well as the threat of dangerous sexuality (as represented by Jose) and guilty denial (as represented by the much-abused indigenous maid). South American cinema frequently concerns itself with its country’s rigid class divide and colonial history, a number of films made around this time were even set at summer homes, but director Lucrecia Martel’s zeroing in on very specific traits of her characters gives a vibrancy to this one that puts it in the top tier of the genre. Her debut feature is a marvel of potent camerawork and sound design, marking her an artist of note who has since made good on the promise with subsequent masterworks.