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Leopoldo Torre Nilsson was probably the best film director in Argentina. He
was a man with a vision. He was the one that elevated the local cinema and
put it on the map in the late 50s and early 60s. He almost always worked on
screen plays based on his wife, Beatriz Guido's novels, as is the case
This gothic tale of hidden monsters and well kept secrets among the provincial bourgeoisie had more impact for me the first time I watched it. On second viewing what seemed so eerie before doesn't hold true any more.
The Lavignes, one of the patrician families of the town, having lost their fortune, are now living humbly making dresses for the moneyed classes still around. They make exquisite work. They don't lack clients, as it's evident by the visits from their wealthy locals.
Into this household Laura arrives for a summer vacation. She feels the spookiness that surrounds the household and she wants to get to the truth behind the closed door of the room on the third floor. She will find out the horrible secret the family has kept hidden from everyone in town. When she discovers what really happened many years ago, it will already be too late to rebel from a fate far worse than what originally happened to a member of the family. Shame, honor and the fear of ridicule played a major part in this story and sealed the fate of the family.
The beautiful Elsa Daniel plays Laura, the young girl at the center of the story. She is a beautiful presence among the darkness around her. A younger Francisco Rabal plays the aristocratic member of another patrician family of the town. Maria Rosa Gallo plays the enigmatic woman at the center of the secret.
I saw it on TV, on a great cable independent movie show. I also saw it twice. The first time I tuned in a bit late and missed the opening. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whose film it was. Some of it looked completely like classic - period Antonioni, some like Mexican Bunuel. There are some great scenes: the "Founders Day" festival for example. It's all really murky and ambiguous. Although blond people are lit dizzyingly high key. There's lots of creepy sexual weirdness. All that good stuff... I'd love to see more of Torre Nilsson's films. Maybe he doesn't have his own voice; maybe he's another hidden treasure, like Imamura. Who knows?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Hand in the Trap" is much like "Jane Eyre." Laura Lavigne (Elsa
Daniel) is Jane and Ines Lavigne is Bertha Mason. Francisco Rabal plays
Mr. Rochester character. Both young women need to know about a mysterious
figure dwelling an in an attic. Both learn that the inmate is female and
both sense a sisterly alliance which provokes a deeper investigation. What
each learns is that Bertha and Ines have been imprisoned and driven mad by
their male `lovers." Also, Jane and Laura are each `in love' with the man
who put away these older women. The one key difference is that Mr.
Rochester suffers for his act and does, in the end, change, while the
Francisco Rabal character does not. In fact the latter, a more realistic
and modern version of the same Mr Rochester, manages to imprison Elsa
So, what we have in `The Hand in the Trap,' is a modern and perhaps more
realistic version of the Jane/Rochester/Mason relationship in Jane Eyre.
The film's strength is its anarchic development, honesty, and restraint. The acting is superb--no weak links. But Elsa Daniel is very special--her presence centers the film--making it so much more compelling. Yet her inner strength does not seem to match Jane Eyre's more worldly resources, because unlike Jane, she fails to hold out on her deadly "lover." Some might prefer a different ending, given the inward power she sometimes seems to display in the film.
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