Cold Water Of The Sea

Cold Water Of The Sea


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Late December on the south Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is nowhere near cold enough to stop local holidaymakers camping on the beach to see in the New Year, nor to prevent American speculators buying up land for exclusive hotels so that their compatriots can "come down here to get away from the winter and the snow" – but there is sufficient chill in the water to send venomous sea snakes fleeing to the warmer sands.

Though these doomed reptiles are a very real presence in Paz Fábrega's first feature Cold Water Of The Sea, they also represent one of its central metaphors, reflecting both the troubles that invade this would-be paradise, and the sense of alienation that transforms more than one female character into a fugitive fish out of water.

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The first of these is seven-year-old Karina (Montserrat Fernández), who one night runs away from the campsite of her working-class family. Discovered hiding on the roadside by affluent young couple Mariana (Lil Quesada Morúa) and Rodrigo (Luis Carlos Bogantes), she tells them a tale of her parents' recent tragic death and her own subsequent abuse at the hands of an uncle. Mariana is horrified, but when they wake up the following morning, Karina has gone - and Rodrigo, too, is keen to move on and finalise the deal that has brought him there, selling off an old family property to a visiting "gringo".

Left alone at their hotel, Mariana cannot get Karina out of her head, and feels increasingly estranged from her partner, her friends and her sheltered environment, until eventually she heads down to the beach to see for herself how Karina – and the other half - really lives.

A native of Costa Rica, writer/director Fábrega may have honed her cinematic skills at the London Film School, but she is also a student, at least figuratively speaking, of Lucrecia Martel (La Ciénaga, The Holy Girl, The Headless Woman). For in Cold Water Of The Sea we can see all the 'trademarks' of the celebrated Argentinean filmmaker: elegantly composed landscapes in wide shot from which the heads or feet of human figures are often cropped; a narrative whose apparent meandering banality conceals all manner of enigmas and ellipses; a focus upon the privileged caught in both crisis and denial; an acute sensitivity to female perspectives; and a thematic preoccupation with water in general, and contaminated pool water in particular.

In Cold Water Of The Sea, the physical dangers of poisonous snakes and collapsing sand tunnels are offset by a sense of psychological, even existential unease, as two women are confronted with their own dissatisfaction and loneliness, and one class is seen washing into another like a wave breaking on the shoreline. This understated moodpiece is a real treat for those in tune with Martel's brand of nuanced suggestiveness - and is full of pretty pictures for everyone else. Fábrega may not quite have found her own voice yet, but with this debut she has more than just dipped her feet in cinema's deeper waters.

Reviewed on: 16 Nov 2010
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A couple on a trip to the beach have an unexpected encounter with a runaway child.
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Director: Paz Fábrega

Writer: Paz Fábrega

Starring: Lil Quesada Morúa, Montserrat Fernández, Luis Carlos Bogantes

Year: 2010

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Costa Rica, France


SSFF 2010
London 2010

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The Headless Woman