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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
Director and co-writer, Lucrecia Martel (Argentina, 1966), has certainly re-written the Lolita story. But this time, the older male finds a more complex younger female in his way. The world is small and certainly claustrophobic, mainly a hotel with mineral baths somewhere in the Santiago del Estero region in Argentina called Las Termas. Tourists come and go into this hotel where all employees form a kind of extended family. Amalia, played by María Alché,is a 15 year-old immersed in the study of catechism and sexual awakening. The great question becomes that of vocation, "what does God wishes me to do." Dr. Jano, played by Carlos Belloso, attends a professional medical conference at Las Termas and engages in improper sexual conduct in a public street of the small town. Once discovered by Amalia, his remorse grows as things become more and more entangled. Amalia and Dr. Jano engage in a mesmerizing game of hide and seek, of desire to redeem and fear of the consequences of losing anonymity.
La niña santa is a haunting film, beautifully shot and full of complex nuances as well as tension. It left me with a sense of "what happened here?" Regarding its director, Pedro Almodovar (one of the film's executive producers) as said that she knows is part of his list of favorite film directors. Perhaps he sees in Martel's work the subtleties that he himself lacks.
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