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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
Don't boo a movie if just because of its local appeal you do not understand it
The previous comment - a scathing review - reads as an effective degradation of Martel's "La Ciénaga" to a wanna-be artsy movie that forgot to include a message to convey or even a story to tell. First of all: this is far from being the truth. Second: nonetheless most publics will probably take that impression away from seeing "La Ciénaga" if they do not know beforehand what to expect. That is neither the fault of the audience nor that of Lucrecia Martel's excellent movie.
Like other excellent directors from around the world, for instance her compatriot Daniel Burman recounting stories from Buenos Aires' Jewish community - Lucrecia Martel has (in my opinion wisely) decided that she will be at her best when telling about the world she knows best: the particular social setting of the Northwest Argentinean provincial capital Salta. A beautiful city, in a province ruled by a populist strongman, with mixed population, urban middle class and a upper crust of provincial landowner aristocracy, that is resistantly moving into a post-feudal age. The pace of life is slow - and comes to a near standstill during the long summer, where people of means escape into summer villages with a slightly preferable micro-climate.
Lucrecia Martel's movie has a "documentary" air about it - but it can only appear fake if one is angry at having paid eight bucks to see a film one does not understand because its appeal is entirely "local".
Now, even if you do not have a first hand experience of Argentinean society, let alone that particular subset that the one of Salta is and neither understand Spanish in its Argentinean version or even more the dialect of the Northwest (not only "ll" and "y" but also "rr"'s are pronounced "sh" as in Washington) you may enjoy the movie if you know the little I indicated above. And believe me: Salta is like that! Departing from this, you may in any case enjoy the excellent photography that perfectly fits and reverberates the pace of slouching decadence, and rejoice in the sometimes not so subtle symbolism of the dysfunctional and untimely nature of the beings populating the movie. The actors do an outstanding job at portraying characters with all the traits you could expect to encounter in Salta's summer mountain escapes. You can take my word for it: these people actually exist!
Is this artsy? While the location selected is one that stands for a niche in a niche market of current cinematography - Martel's choice is highly commendable: for it is this courageous choice that enables here to tell stories that she unlike any other can bring to the screen and apply to them all the skills of the craft she and her team have mastered. If you accept that you will enjoy a true gem of contemporary cinema. If you reject her choice, then at least waste a moment of your time that you had set out to complain about those ridiculously artsy movie directors and consider why Woody Allen may have decided to make one NYC movie after the other. And how much the Coen Brothers' works profit from their choice of more than peculiar regional settings.
My recommendation: take the time, open your mind, suppress the expectations and watch "La Ciénaga". Remember: if you don't like it, it's not your fault - but neither does it have to be Lucrecia Martel's.
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