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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. But there is something deeper Lolitaesque, more in a while.
Okay so the basic means of expression are in Altman's mode of narrative drifting, 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 who likes to observe, the basis of everything.
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. Ordinary 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)
But now look at all these different things going on. A man in the shop window who creates invisible sounds and draws a crowd enthralled at the mystery of his creation, the remote sounds of hunters' gunfire which alarm the girl in the woods to something horrible, 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!), and a doctor- patient re-enactment before an audience is 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 has been producing his peculiar soundsa theremin, calligraphic hands drawing from thin air the shape of sound, something out of nothing, which is a stunning metaphor for the urges that overtake us in life.
So as characters move through the world, they draw illusory currents in the air which on the topmost level acquire dramatic shape that reveals soul. It is this that masterfully recalls Lolita and in a far deeper way than either of the two film adaptationsa 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 things amazes. I was in awe of a few.
Together, they suggest one of the brightest, most intelligent voices in film these days, one of perhaps only three working right now for me. What's keeping her back? For my taste, the unoriginal camera. She just hasn't yet discovered her own calligraphic eye that will set her apart, 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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