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Chekhov in contemporary Argentina. Mecha and Gregorio are at their rundown country place near La Ciénaga with their teen children. It's hot. The adults drink constantly; Mecha cuts herself, engendering a trip to the hospital and a visit from her son José. A cousin, Tali, brings her children. The kids are on their own, sunbathing by the filthy pool, dancing in town, running in the hills with shotguns, driving cars without licenses. One of the teen girls loves Isabel, a family servant constantly accused of stealing. Mother and son, son and sisters, teen and Isabel are in each other's beds and bathrooms with a creepy intimacy. With no adults paying attention, who's at risk? Written by
Lurid colors cover a visual stink that permeates La Cienaga and turns all interaction sinister around the edges. The camera work was queasy and the cuts were brutal--sometimes fatal I loved it. La Cienaga sticks in the memory like the urban legends the children tell to scare each other. The story is an almost voyeuristic tour of the families of two sisters, Tali and Mecha, one in the city, one in the swamp. We meet Mecha, the rich swamp-dwelling sister, by her filthy swimming pool surrounded by other zombie-esquire party-goers, all half passed out in pool chairs from the combined effect of alcohol and the rainforest heat. All of her bored kids are scarred, beat-up, scratchedone is missing an eye. Armed with hunting rifles, the swamp is their main source of entertainmentexcept for awkward Momi, who spends most of her time clinging to Isabella ("Isa"), the native Argentinean house servant in Mecha's crumbling estate.
Tali's family, living in the city, seems a little more sane, a little more whole, but her kids are smack in the middle of terrifying stages of growing up. Her two hyper-gendered daughters on the verge of puberty wear enough woman's make-up to look like kiddie-porn stars or circus clowns. When they are not being chased by little boys with water balloons, they are taunting their little brother with stories of the African rat-dog.
Some of the only music in the film follows Isa, the native; all else is the constant rumble of thunder, the ice tinkling in the Mecha's drink, and the silence of sullen frustration. Every scene is dangerous in its way, every volatile character was so full of desires gone bad, and all beauty was rotten underneath. Director Lucrecia Martel has created a refreshingly unromantic film in the romantic location of the Argentinean rainforest that leaves you with images as sticky as the heat.
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