Friday, January 09, 2015
Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel, La Cienaga (The Swamp) is the story of a rich family who spend the summer at a small country home as they contend with relatives and simmering tension that looms on the family. The film is an exploration into world of families and social classes as a rich couple with teenage children cope with themselves and their life as part of the bourgeoisie. Starring Graciela Borges, Mercedes Moran, Martin Adjemian, and Daniel Valenzuela. La Cienaga is a ravishing and captivating film from Lucrecia Martel.
Set in a small city in Northern Argentina called La Cienaga, the film revolves around the life of a bourgeois family that lives in a decaying country home during the summer as they do nothing but drink and other activities to cope with the heat as well as visiting relatives who live in the town. It’s a film that doesn’t have much of a plot but little stories about various people living in this house and the town nearby as they all do ordinary things amidst the differences in social standings. For someone like Mecha (Graciela Borges), she seems to have everything but her country house is a mess, the pool is filthy, her teenage children are roaming around the house, and her husband Gregorio (Martin Adjemian) spends his time trying to look young. Mecha would spend much of her holiday drinking wine with ice as she copes with being injured during a drunken rainy day as her children are trying to find ways to kill their boredom.
The film’s screenplay doesn’t play into any kind of traditional structure as it takes place largely in the span of a weekend where Mecha is stuck in her house recovering from an injury as she is visited by her cousin Tali (Mercedes Moran) who is a very different woman from Mecha. Though Tali has four kids as well who are quite rambunctious, she is a woman that lives a simpler life with her husband Rafael (Daniel Valenzuela) despite not having much as she needs to travel to Bolivia to get school supplies because it’s cheaper there than in Argentina. Along with little subplots involving a young maid named Isabel (Andrea Lopez) about to be fired over accusations of stealing towels, boys hunting in the mountains, and the eldest son Jose (Juan Cruz Bordeau) dealing with relationship issues with an older lover. It plays into something that feels ordinary but also very real as the story plays into Mecha’s teenage daughters coping with growing up while Tali’s children are also growing up as they wonder about things in Mecha’s home and such.
Lucrecia Martel’s direction definitely plays into a style that is simple and to the point as she shoots the film on location in the Argentine town of Salta where it feels like a place that is in a small town that is nearby the country. Much of the direction has Martel utilize hand-held cameras to play into a sense of intimacy as its opening sequence of Mecha, Gregorio, and friends relaxing and being drunk in the nearby pool is quite mesmerizing. It definitely sets up for what is to come as it definitely makes something that looks and feels ordinary very compelling in its image and how it sounds. Even as the house itself is a character in the film where it sort of represents who Mecha is as she is sort of falling apart due to the fact that she has everything but isn’t very happy. Even as her cousin Tali, who may not have everything, believes that Mecha will end up like their grandmother who ended up staying in bed for the rest of her life. Martel also uses the differences of Mecha and Tali into not just suggesting class and personality differences but also into the study of their respective families.
Though Tali’s younger children that includes a teenage daughter in Augustina (Noelia Bravo Herrera) are often surrounded by things though they don’t have a lot. They seem more grounded as does Tali’s husband Rafael who is always attentive towards the children. Both women are connected by the television report of a possible sighting of the Virgin Mary in the town as well as planning a trip to Bolivia. Yet, their both diverging into different directions as Mecha is surrounded by chaos in her own family as Martel’s usage of close-ups and medium shots play into that chaos. Notably as Mecha’s children are eager to escape their surroundings but have to go back because their home is their safe haven but an uneasy one due to the matriarch that lives there complaining about everything while their father is becoming delusional over his lost youth. Overall, Martel creates a very disturbing yet evocative film about a family’s bleak summer in the middle of an Argentine countryside.
Cinematographer Hugo Colace does brilliant work with the film‘s ravishing cinematography with its emphasis on natural colors as well as natural interior lights to play into the look of the homes and some lighting schemes for the scenes at night. Editor Santiago Ricci does excellent work with the editing to create some unique jump-cuts to play into the drama as well as the energy of the kids in their different activities. Set decorator Cristina Nigro and art director Graciela Oderigo do fantastic work with the look of Mecha‘s home and its sense of decay with lamps that barely work as it feels like a place that was once great but it‘s losing its beauty. The sound work of Herve Guyader, Emmanuel Croset, Guido Berenblum, and Adrian de Michele are incredible as it has this mix of sparse textures and layers of sounds from its opening sequence to moments where music is heard as all of the music that is played which adds to the film‘s naturalistic tone.
The casting by Florencia Blanco, Martin Mainoli, Luciana Rico, and Natalia Smirnoff is amazing as it features some notable small roles from Fabio Villafane as Isabel’s boyfriend Perro, Silvia Bayle as Jose’s much-older girlfriend Mercedes, Diego Baenas as Mecha’s youngest child in the one-eyed teenager Joaquin, Franco Veneranda as Tali’s eldest son Martin who likes to go hunting with Joaquin, Sebastian Montagna as Tali’s youngest son in the curious Luciano, Maria Micol Ellero as Tali’s youngest daughter in the energetic Mariana, Noelia Bravo Herrera as Tali’s eldest child in Augustina who helps with her older cousins cope with boredom, and Andrea Lopez as the young maid Isabel who deals with the idea of being fired as well as her own personal life. Juan Cruz Bordeau is terrific as Mecha’s eldest son Jose who is a man full of charm but is also a bit of a creep towards his own sisters. Leonora Balcare is superb as the older sister Veronica who copes with Jose’s presence while Sofia Bertolotto is wonderful as the younger sister Momi who copes with her own growing pains as she is secretly in love with Isabel.
Martin Adjemian is excellent as Mecha’s husband Gregorio as this man who is desperate to look young as he copes with aging and the growing disdain he’s getting from his wife. Daniel Valenzuela is fantastic as Tali’s husband Rafael who is very kind and helpful man as he would tell Tali to not to go to Bolivia while coping with the day-to-day things in his job and at home. Mercedes Moran is brilliant as Tali as this woman who lives in a working class town as she copes with trying to get things she needs for her children as well as other things in her life while helping Mecha out. Finally, there’s Graciela Borges in an amazing performance as Mecha as this rich yet unhappy woman who drowns her sorrows in drink as she complains about not having things get done as well as her children as she brings this very troubled yet sympathetic performance to a woman who is lost in her decaying lifestyle.
La Cienaga is a remarkable film from Lucrecia Martel. It’s a film that explores a family coming apart in their own world as well as the idea of class differences and how some cope with those differences. Even as it showcases those that are dealing with growing pains and the fears that they might end up like their own parents. In the end, La Cienaga is a phenomenal film from Lucrecia Martel.
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