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Julio De Grazia
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
Lucrecia Martel, the director of "The Holy Girl" gives us an erotically charged account of a young woman's awakening to a world that she seems not to be ready for. Ms. Martel combines a mixture of religion and eroticism in the narrative of the film. As always, the director gathers an interesting cast to tell her story.
It's interesting to read some of the negative comments to this forum. Most perceive the film as boring and slow. In fact, the film is far from that, and it was surprising to see the movie the other day at the Lincoln Plaza complex with a theater half full and nobody walked out of the film, something that we have witnessed viewers to do with other, more acclaimed features.
Ms. Martel takes us to a remote spot in Northern Argentina, an improbable place for holding a medical convention. At the same time, the director, in an interview we read, tells about how the location, which she knew from having been as a guest, made an impression on her and she based her story at the hotel.
Amalia is a young girl that is just awakening to a sexuality that goes against her upbringing. We see her surrounded by her school mates and the loyal Josefina, her best friend. Ines, who seems older, leads the group in prayer, perhaps to get the young women's mind into their latent sexual awakenings. Amalia lives in the hotel with her mother, an attractive woman who seems to be oblivious to what's going on with her daughter. In fact, one gets the impression the mother enjoys whatever sex she gets to the fullest.
Enter the roguish Dr. Jano. He is on his own, attending the medical conference, although he is married and has about four children. When Dr. Jano goes into town he spots a group watching a street performance and immediately gravitates toward the beautiful young woman he sees as someone he can casually rub himself against the girl without attracting attention. Amalia realizes what's going on and starts following this enigmatic man, who proves to be elusive in the open. He is more of a voyeur rather than a man that would lead Amalia into an open sexual encounter. Everything is done in a subtle way, which in a way works better because of the shock it provokes on the viewer. In a way, Ms. Martel makes us voyeurs because through her camera, she makes us watch what Dr. Jano is doing to Amalia.
The acting Ms. Martel got from the principals is amazing. Maria Alche is a girl of great beauty. She is an intense young woman who fits perfectly in the story. The other good performance comes from Carlos Belloso. His Dr. Jano is an enigma as we watch him. In a way it shows this man as a duplicitous person who being married, will go and try to get his thrills in dark places, probably sitting next to unsuspecting young women in movies, or wherever he can be aroused without being obvious. Mia Maestro is Ines, the pious woman who is seen giving religious instruction to the girls. Julieta Zyberberg is good as Josefina and Mercedes Moran also has great moments as Helena.
This is a disturbing film, but one that dares to speak of things that other film makers avoid. Ms. Martel shows she is a director that doesn't mind taking chances.
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