The Desert Bride


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Desert Bride
"Capturing this moment, this opening up, writer/director team Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato demonstrate that there's room on the big screen for small things."

Difunta Correa is not an official saint. The Catholic Church has never formally acknowledged her miracles, but she is celebrated anyway, all across the north of Argentina, where the people have taken to heart the legend of a woman who died in the desert but whose breast miraculously kept producing milk, keeping her baby alive for days until help arrived. It is at one of her shrines that the bus carrying Teresa (Paulina García) across the country breaks down, and when Teresa loses her bag there amongst the possessions of a travelling salesman, the detour that she is forced to make provides its own glimpse of the divine.

Teresa is a maid who has spent 30 years working for the same family. Now that they have fallen on hard times, she is being sent away to work for their distant relatives. She is, after all, not a real family member, despite the love she came to feel for the family's child, who is now grown. Temporarily without a role and never really possessed of a direction of her own, she is possessed of the same liminality as her location, where the traders come and go and the marketplace itself can disappear depending on the whims of the weather. The lost bag might seem a mere detail in a life, but it contains all of her possessions, the only things she has to tell her who she is, and without it she is lost as well.

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A maid needs to be an organised, practical person. It doesn't take Teresa long to track down the salesman she thinks must have had it, who goes by the name of El Gringo "although I am not a gringo." Played by Claudio Rissi, all rough edges by soft at the core, he immediately feels sympathy for this stranger whose rigid shell seems to be all that's holding her together. They travel together to try and find the bag. A delicate script doesn't force a romance; it seems remarkable enough that Teresa learns to smile in his presence. What he does, in his small way, is to show her other places, other lives, other ways of being. Whatever she does in her future will no longer be a result of following the only course she can see. One way or another, it will be her own choice.

García delivers something special in the central role, showing us Teresa's practised emotional armour, her brittleness and hesitation, then letting it melt away. Like a desert flower after rain, she blooms for the first time in decades. It is only a small thing, a little more colour in the world, but a thing worth treasuring for its rarity.

Capturing this moment, this opening up, writer/director team Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato demonstrate that there's room on the big screen for small things. Their carefully crafted film might not appeal to the masses, and it's arguably too slight a thing to justify the 78 minute running time, but not every character can deliver big drama - many real lives contain only such brief moments of self-realisation - and the message of The Desert Bride is that they matter too.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2018
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When a live-in maid's path crosses that of a travelling salesman, her life will change forever.

Director: Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato

Writer: Cecilia Atán, Valeria Pivato

Starring: Paulina García, Claudio Rissi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 78 minutes

Country: Argentina, Chile

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