The Fish Child

The Fish Child


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Based on her own book of the same name Lucia Puenzo's latest film is at heart, like her debut XXY, an exploration of the nature and importance of familial and romantic love. Which is not to say that it doesn't come with genre trappings - for this examination is wrapped up in elements of thriller, film noir, road movie, drama and social commentary.

Lala (Inés Efron, who doesn't seem to have aged a day since she starred XXY) is the daughter of a judge, living in an upper middle class area of Buenos Aires. He is distant, at best - probably due to the death threats he is getting - while her mother is largely absent and her brother is struggling with addiction, having just had a spell in rehab.

All of which means they are oblivious to the fact that she is head over heels in love with Ailin - their 'Guayi', essentially, a Paraguayan live-in maid who is paradoxically both treated as part of her family and as their lackey, not to mention a sometime sexual plaything. The two of them are at that heady stage of love, where nothing matters but one another and dreams of running away together to set up a dream life near where Ailin is from seem little more than an arm's reach away. But their plans are thrown into disarray when a death blights their lives leading to Lala taking a step back into Ailin's past, fraught with its own horrors.

Like the fish child myth at the centre of the film - a creation by Puenzo, which details a merboy who dwells beneath the Paraguayan Lake Ypoa, looking after the spirits of 'lost' children - there are hidden and unexpected depths to events going on nearer the surface.

Firstly, Puenzo dispenses with a straightfoward timeline, meaning we, like Lala, must go on a journey to piece together the events in the lovers' past and present, with the fractured narrative adding tension to the film's thriller aspect. And while these thriller elements may feel, initially, familiar, Puenzo embues them with greater resonance by establishing her characters gradually and giving them a distinct sense of self.

It is the central love story - beautifully realised both in terms of camerawork and acting - that underpins all the rest of the directorial flourishes. Puenzo, as with XXY, demonstrates a remarkable restraint. Love scenes between the girls are emotionally passionate without being salacious, making them all the more believable. This emotional connection is in stark contrast to the cultural clash that the pairing creates, one lower class, the other moneyed, one not loved enough by her parents, the other too much and yet despite the maelstrom their love remains a thing of purity.

Technically, the film looks great, with distinctive colour palettes adding to the sense of distance between Ailin's homeland and Lala's. Although towards the end of the film events become somewhat overwrought, this is still a worthy follow up to her debut and shows again that Puenzo has a unique voice worth listening to.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2009
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A middle-class teen and her lesbian maid find plans to forge a life together thwarted by a death.
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Director: Lucía Puenzo

Writer: Lucía Puenzo

Starring: Inés Efron, Mariela Vitale, Carlos Bardem, Pep Munné, Arnaldo André, Diego Velázquez, Julián Doregger, Sandra Guida

Year: 2009

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Argentina, France, Spain

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