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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
An other opinion...La Niña Santa: shades of Kieslowski
La Niña Santa is one of the smartest, sexiest, tenderest, funniest, quiet-and-unassuming movies I've seen in the last half dozen years. It delivers a velvet glove, emotional coup-de-grace (despite the diminuendo ending), and for precisely the reasons the other reviewer adjudged it 'one of the worst movies' she'd ever seen. Isn't curious how we all differ?; the screenplay is intelligent without being smart-alec, nuanced in the most tender of manners, and slyly humorous. Yes, it takes 13 minutes, or more, to figure out what's what and that is only one of the film's glories. What may seem like amateurish framing is clearly a masterful use of the camera in a sensual-naturalistic mode. Its hard to believe this is writer-director's (Lucrecia Martel) second feature film; there is an understated command of all the elements of cinema that reminds one of Kieslowski (and the brothers Dardenne; Truffaut); and perhaps that is another reason the film has elicited strong reaction.
The Kieslowski reference is not casual, for the theme of the film is the subtle palpitations of the heart, in particular feminine desire, conjoined with a moral dilemma. Much of the plot focuses on Amalia, the teenage daughter of Helena, a sophisticated divorcée who runs a hot-springs resort where a doctor's conference is being held. Dr. Jano, the third protagonist, takes a somewhat perverse fancy to Amalia, 'casually' rubbing himself up against her in a crowd on the street packed around a man performing on a theremin. This incident (which is reprised) in conjunction with Amalia's religious - 'what is our vocation in God?' - instruction (also reprised) serves to awaken Amalia's desire in, what to her, is a disturbing and profound manner: she conceives that she has been given a 'sign' of her vocation to save the soul of this anonymous man.
Complications arise, mostly for Dr. Jano, when he meets Helena in the hotel bar and falls gently into the perfume of their mutual attraction. Amalia keeps following him, haunting him in a way he is not comfortable with, all the while he is being drawn to Helena and she to him. Slowly it dawns on him that Amalia is Helena's daughter and he realizes, but he alone, that he is caught in a moral bind.
One of the supreme glories of this story is the tender way in which the group of teenage girls, Amalia and her friends, are represented (again this reminds one of Kieslowski, the brothers Dardenne, Truffaut). They are seen to be curious and critical-skeptical, naive and wise, awakening to a world of desire about which they are 'technically' ignorant and innocent. María Alche as Amalia, has a face and a presence that is at once homely and luminous. It is so rare, and so moving, to encounter a story in which the dilemmas of teenagers are given as much credence as adults, treated by the story-teller (both script and camera) with respect, compassion, love, and understanding; and this is even more rare, I think, when it concerns teenage girls. If you love women, whatever your gender, you might just fall in love with La Niña Santa.
A revelation; Lucrecia Martel (writer-director) is clearly a new and major point of reference on the world cinematic horizon.
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