The Water

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

El Agua
"Although the drama itself has a generally naturalistic feel, striking visuals embellish the spirit of all those things that are just beyond that realm." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Directors' Fortnight

The way that myth, rumour and fable can interplay with fact in the minds of small town communities flows through this engaging debut feature from Elena López Riera, which retains an air of the mysterious throughout. Set in the Spanish director's home region of Orihuela in the south-east of the country, the loose story revolves around the first love experienced by teenagers Ana (Luna Pamiés) and José (Alberto Olmo).

But there's another, altogether more ancient romance that runs through the minds of those who live near a river which periodically breaks its banks in devastating floods. According to local myth, the river can also fall in love with young women, who will find themselves filled with water and taken by the river when it is in spate. This story is presented, not just through the film's central characters, but in segments in which real-life residents of the town recount their version of this tale straight to camera. This not only offers a counterpoint to the thrust of the story - in a similar, although more bracing, approach to last year's The Tale Of King Crab - but an indication of the way that superstition can become as real as anything actually experienced.

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As Ana - played with sensitivity by newcomer Pamiés - begins to feel the pull of the river, López Riera's film becomes as much about mood and feel as it is about plotting - the casual cadence of an idle conversation involving a baby, the golden hour moments when the heat of the day ebbs and the heat of desire flows.

Although the drama itself has a generally naturalistic feel, striking visuals embellish the spirit of all those things that are just beyond that realm, including the clouds of painted pigeons released by José, his father (Pascual Valero) and a host of other men as the male birds compete for the amorous attention of a female. Contrasting ideas of the masculine and feminine also run through the story, as we see the emotional difference between conversations between José and his father and Ana and her mum (Bárbara Lennie) - with the latter pair and Ana's grandmother (Nieve de Medina) also subject to local rumour and gossip because there is no permanent man about the house. José's story is also shrouded, it seems, in his own self-devised myth, about going away to London. After all, even if you can't escape from the problems of the real world - including the loss of lives to a flood - López Riera suggests you can always weave a story that makes things more bearable.

Reviewed on: 22 May 2022
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The Water packshot
First love plays out against a backdrop of a hot summer and local myth.

Director: Elena López Riera

Writer: Elena López Riera, Philippe Azoury

Starring: Luna Pamies, Bárbara Lennie, Nieve De Medina, Alberto Olmo, Irene Pellicer, Nayara García, Lidia María Cánovas, Pascual Valero

Year: 2022

Runtime: 104 minutes

Country: Spain

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Cannes 2022

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