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I was profoundly touched by this movie. There are two main stories. One
about a french woman, Hélène, living in modern world, going to
Argentina to adopt a baby. The other one is about Juana, a woman living
in a rural world with her son, hopelessly left behind by the bolting
modernization and capitalism of her native country.
The two womens paths will cross and they will try and find support and comfort in each others misery.
The performances by the actors in this movie, especially by Aymará Rovera, are truly exceptional. It is a great story telling us that we are sharing one world, having different problems and sooner or later will be forced to acknowledge each others co-existence.
It is a hard kick in solar-plexus of the roaring capitalism, exploiting the poorest and leaving them helpless behind. Go and see this movie if you get the chance. Please do.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Juan Diego Solanas begins his disturbing and frustrating film Northeast
(Nordeste), which mixes cool aestheticism and harshly schematic
realism, with the starkly filmed slaughter of a calf. When the carcass
is hanging up a man cuts off a hunk of meat and gives it to a boy who
takes it to his mother. The boy and his mother are 13-year-old Martín
(Ignacio Ramon Jiméniz) and Juana (Aymará Rovera), who are
handsome-looking but penniless and live in a hovel in the country
somewhere -- we learn later -- in the far northeastern Formosa region
Meanwhile unmarried forty-something French pharmaceuticals executive Hélène (Carole Bouquet) travels to Buenas Aires to adopt a child -- an orphan, she hopes -- but quickly learns the arrangement she thought she'd made is nonexistent. Furious and needy, Hélène, who in Bouquet's troubling performance has a tragically naïve determination, flies north to Formosa where she hears opportunities for adoption are many.
Juana has a lover -- rather handsome too, but cold and harsh, a married ranch hand; it was he who gave Martín the meat. Hélène contacts young lawyer Gustavo (Juan Pablo Domench) who is inexperienced but knows enough to warn her what she wants to do means dealing with illegal child traffickers. Meanwhile the hitherto sweet and clean-cut young Martín, aware of the desperation at home, begins to cut school -- he lacks even the money for the bus ride there -- and falls in with ghetto boys who begin by stealing the buns he sells and then befriend him and show him how to sniff glue and shoot bottles with a pistol.
Hélène is lodged at a nearby ranch and drives back and forth in a truck. She gives Martín a ride and tries out her elementary Spanish on him and then on Juana. Juana is pregnant by her lover and uses dangerous anti-pregnancy drugs that cause hemorrhaging. She seeks help from Hélène, who she thinks is a doctor. Juana is served with an eviction notice and the rancher's agent is a crude squat bastard. ("Son of a whore" is a phrase frequently used in the film and seems to apply too well to many of the secondary characters.) Gustavo takes Hélène to a midwife who gives them prices and tells them a blond baby costs more than an Indian. Hélène expresses indifference to color or price and is ready to go ahead. With the grim tone Solanas has set it's hardly unexpected that the process goes badly. When Hélène pays half the price as an advance, about $15,000, and is given an ominously quiet baby, one shrinks inwardly with the sure foreknowledge that the night she spends with it before its medical exam will only create a tragic attachment. Inevitably the doctor informs her that the baby has an incurable neurological disease and will not live. She freaks out and bolts screaming from the hospital leaving Gustavo and the baby behind.
A talk with a nun convinces Hélène buying an illegal baby is a selfish choice: the price would support many families, or sustain a child through college if he were allowed to stay at home. Hélène contritely returns to the midwife to take back the baby she was going to buy and care for it in France while it lives, but it is "gone," perhaps killed for the sale of its organs, who knows?
Juana's and Martín's conditions rapidly decline as Hélène reaches her own peak of desperation. A social worker, probably also involved in the omnipresent child trafficking in this desperate region, tells Juana that social services do not exist to help her, that she should allow her son to be adopted so he can grow up in comfort and be educated abroad, and that she is selfish not to want to do so. The implication is obvious -- but not followed through in Solanas' film, which ends with Juana's cottage torched and her in the hospital. The camera slowly withdraws far away from Hélène and Martín sitting side by side in the hospital corridor -- as if the filmmaker is turning away from the task of completing his somewhat crudely roughed in story.
Solanas is the son of Fernando Solanas the renowned documentarian-activist of The Hour of the Furnaces and the current SFIFF's The Dignity of the Nobodies. But he has lived largely in France since he was young and this film has a style half European and half documentary. The use of non-actors for most of the cast -- except for the extremely experienced Bouquet, who's taken down a peg, however, by having to speak a great deal in clumsy Spanish -- is not entirely successful, and most of the characters, the lawyer, the child traffickers, the rancher's brutish agents, even Juana, her son, and her lover -- have little depth or originality in the depiction. Even Hélène is little but a cry of confused need. Juan Diego Solanas would seem to have inherited the social consciousness of his father without his warmth and faith in humanity. The resulting film is a succession of increasingly leaden scenes. The information Northeast conveys is important and tragic, but ultimately it seems to acquire little life beyond its message of injustice and despair.
Solanas won the Cannes Best Short Film Jury Prize in 2003 for his previous work, The Man Without a Head . This first feature may be less successful but he has talent and ambition and is not going away.
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