Saturday, February 1, 2014
Film Atlas (Argentina): The Swamp
Film: The Swamp / La Cienaga (2001)
Dead leaves drift across a dirty pool. Ice rattles around a glass, one of dozens, none of them matching. The cries of bored children, the tide of insect song or a cloud crossing the sun intermittently wake the clan of sleeping middle-aged relatives who form an isthmus of mottled, sweaty flesh separating the overcrowded manor from the overgrown grounds. Either side might be the 'swamp' that the title refers to, but it also recalls the torpid denizens themselves, fermenting in their own unhealthy atmospheres of apathy, anxiety and alcohol. Mecha, the matriarch of sorts, has to be taken to the hospital after taking a tumble while in a drunken stupor. This triggers a makeshift family reunion, where the children, teens, adults and servants, all in their own worlds, linger about as though waiting for a revelation, a disaster or a vision. Or perhaps just a shopping trip to Bolivia.
Director Lucrecia Martel's first film (each one since has continued to win her deserved praise) is a beguiling masterpiece of family life in the form of a Latin American gothic. It's slow, but full to the brim, ridden with moments pregnant with internal and external meanings, some obvious, some half-buried, some relevant only in a brief flash. There is a sense of class consciousness, but nothing heavy handed. There is a unbearable foreboding unease that percolates out of the sound design. And yet the surface is calm. The parents drink and try to stay afloat, while we see hints of what they used to be and, far more vividly, the morass into which they're sliding. Martel is wise enough not to tip her hand; the mood is not quite condemnation, despair or revulsion. The camera observes, and at times it aches for them, feels their pain, especially for the souls just beginning to stir in the youngest children. There Martel has her greatest success, for few films capture the collective interactions of children with such honesty, revealing their chaos, confusion, spontaneity and inscrutability without giving them too little credit or too much.
The Official Story
The Secret in the Their Eyes
The Holy Girl
The Headless Woman
The Truce (1974)
A Place in the World
Major Directors: Lisandro Alonso, Fabián Bielinsky, Leonardo Favio, Lucrecia Martel