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ENT physicians gather at a provincial hotel in Salta. The hotel owner, Helena, is subdued, brittle, avoiding the calls of her ex-husband's pregnant wife. Family dysfunction seems everywhere. Helena's daughter, Amalia, about 14, discusses vocations in a Catholic girls group. Their teen imaginations conflate the erotic, the religious, and the lurid. Amalia notices Dr. Jano, and he notices her. She decides to make him her vocation, she follows him, he rubs against her in a public crowd, he's appalled at his actions. Meanwhile, Helena believes Jano is attracted to her even though he's married. Longing, guilt, scandal, and teen sensuality are set to collide. Written by
As far as I'm concerned, the film is an outstanding achievement in cinematic narrative, I'm tentatively including it as one of the very best I have seen. A lot of viewers have complained about the slumbering, monotonous tone and the filmmaker's insistence to not explain her vague story, which capped off by the high-handed gesture of the endingthe only note off for mecan give the impression that this is another in a long list of 'artsy', fashionably minimal film festival fodder.
Fair points, but consider something else.
The story is fairly simple, a Catholic girl looks to save the soul of a middle- aged doctor.
I'm not sure if Lolita was consciously the template, indeed the film differs in obvious waysthe doctor makes covert sexual advances, but he is a sincerely troubled man, and from her end the girl perceives these to be a sign from god that this man has strayed and needs saving. There is family dysfunction as background and a lot of religious talk on the divine plan.
The basic means of expression are in Altman's mode of drifting narrative gaze, but with the difference of a static camera and the drift carried through in the movement of bodies and sound. If you read up on what the filmmaker has to say, she reveals stumbling on to this in an interesting way, not via film school but intimate observations of family. She seems like an alert, curious mind.
The film begins in a shapeless, rumbling state, and only gradually establishes a few things; the place is a hotel, a doctors' convention is scheduled to take place, the man is married with kids, the girl's mother is divorced. It only begins to acquire shape when both the girl and her mother take an interest in the sullen man. Pretty ordinary stuff so far.
Here's where it gets really cool.
The notion is that there is a a sign which female intuition picks up, the sign kicks off a story of connection, but for obvious reasons the story cannot be consummated in the open, it has to be submerged, disguised for busy, prying eyes. (the hotel residents' as well as our own)
Now have a look at these narrative devices; the man in the shop-window who creates invisible sounds as spectacle, the sign as remote sounds of hunters' gunfire which alarm the girl, the talk of an invisible godvoice, the mother's unexplained persistent earbuzz, both the mother and the doctor have acted in plays (the doctor as a doctor!), a doctor- patient re-enactment before an audience proposed to the mother by the taciturn doctor. And the most revealing, another doctor is caught in mischief with a young girl, which foreshadows shame and public embarrassment.
The core scene that perfectly encapsulates what this is all about, is when we discover how the man in the shop-window is producing his peculiar soundsa theremin, calligraphic hands drawing from thin air the shape of sound, something out of nothing, which is how the film comes into being.
As characters move through the world, they create soul-revealing currents in the ether which on the topmost level acquire some dramatic shape. All this is deeply Lolitaesquea story which is both the story and faintly reveals the haze of urges (sexual, spiritual) of hidden inner selves as they shift and shiver behind their acceptable roles in that story.
Each of these devices amazes. I was in awe of a few.
Together, they suggest one of the brightest, most intelligent voices in film these days, one of only three working now for me. What's keeping her back? For my taste, the unoriginal camera, she just hasn't yet discovered her own calligraphic eye, though I'm sure that is in her future. For all I know, she has found it in her next film.
I wish her the best of luck. In the meantime, see this and contemplate on the rich tapestry she has woven.
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