La Ciénaga

La Ciénaga

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

For the landed gentry, summers can be long and tedious. The nouveau riche are different. They have expensive toys to play with and are more energetic. Old money means old things, houses too big to maintain, a cavalier attitude towards outside interference and a dislike of change.

Big families don't need anyone. They have each other. Privilege brings freedom and freedom encourages eccentricity and eccentricity seeps into the fabric.

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Lucrecia Martel's debut as writer/director captures the many layered character of the Argentinian upper-class so perfectly that explanatory scenes would appear bourgeois in their desire to tidy the place up a bit.

The adults are generally tipsy and the young undisciplined. Mecha (Graciela Borges) spends much of the film in bed, after falling by the pool and cutting herself on smashed wine glasses. Gregorio (Martin Adjemian) dyes his hair and has long lost the will to run the estate, his fading charm dissipated by boredom and alcohol.

The teenage children do what they like, which is tame by modern standards. Their isolation from the urban jungle avoids the banality of a cocaine habit, in favour of hunting in the woods, lying about in rooms, driving cars underage and feeding a dog at the table.

Momi (Sofia Bertolotto) has a crush on the servant girl (Andrea Lopez). Jose (Juan Cruz Bordeu) has a crush on his sister, Veronica (Leonora Balcarce), while carrying on a half-hearted affair in Buenos Aires with an ex-mistress of his father. Sex, like so much else in this family, is unrequited.

Mecha's cousin, Tali (Mercedes Moran), lives in the town, Swamp City, in a house too small for a swimming pool. She is everything Mecha is not, calm, sober, loving, practical and a natural mother. Their friendship seems unevenly balanced.

Martel shoots the film as if it was a documentary, something she knows about, so that the camera observes rather than intrudes, hints rather than declares, records rather than invents. The ensemble cast is superb, with Bertolotto and Moran especially memorable.

It is not a film in which plot takes preference over ambience. No one answers the phone. The need for fresh ice is more urgent than worrying about what the kids are up to in the mountains. The pool hasn't been cleaned in years and, as Tali says, "Here, nothing ever works." Mecha despises the servants, assuming that they are lazy and dishonest. "Indians only think of fun," she spits. "We spoil them."

Seldom has a way of life, however unstructured, been captured on film with such confidence and subtlety. Bunuel would have been proud.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2001
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A long hot summer on Argentinian estate for dysfunctional extended family.
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Read more La Ciénaga reviews:

Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Writer: Lucrecia Martel

Starring: Graciela Borges, Mercedes Moran, Sofia Bertolotto, Juan Cruz Bordeu, Martin Adjemian, Andrea Lopez, Leonora Balcarce, Diego Baenas, Sebastian Montagna, Silvia Bayle

Year: 2000

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina/Spain

Festivals:

EIFF 2001
Viva 2008

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