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María Victoria Menis
Pablo Aguirre Andrade,
Lucía Ruiz Ortiz
The Argentinian film La cámara oscura (2008), directed by María Victoria Menis, was shown in the U.S. with the title "The Camera Obscura." It stars Mirta Bogdasarian as Gertrudis, a woman so unattractive that her own mother cannot bear to look at her. (Actually, Ms. Bogdasarian isn't even remotely as unattractive as the character she portrays. Nonetheless, the point of the story is that she's unattractive, so we have to accept it.)
I knew that some Jews who escaped the Holocaust managed to get into Argentina. However, I didn't realize that immigrants like Gertrudis's family had arrived much earlier, to escape the Russian pogroms. They settled in rural Argentina, and became farmers and ranchers.
The story moves forward 20 years, by which time hope has been lost in regard to a marriage for Gertrudis. Nonetheless, she does eventually get married, to a wealthy widower, whose first wife was beautiful but unfaithful. The plot really begins much later, after World War I, when Gertrudis, her husband, and her family are living on their large ranch. Into this situation comes a French photographer, a former war correspondent, who takes pictures of everyone, including Gertrudis. What happens next is somewhat ambiguous, and each viewer will have to decide the significance of the last scene in the film. (Apparently Ms. Menis has been quoted as saying that the last scene is not ambiguous. Most of us in the audience thought it was.)
An interesting facet of this movie is the portrayal of Gertrudis's husband and their sons, who have adopted the Gaucho costume, and who work alongside the hired ranch hands. In the same way, the women work hard at the traditional female jobs. An English squire, in similar circumstances, would have a life of leisure, and his wife would have maids to do the hardest work. Not so, apparently, in Argentina. Assuming that this is an accurate portrayal, I found these facts fascinating.
The film has some beautiful scenic shots, and they'll be mostly lost on the small screen. Better to see this film in a theater if possible. We saw it at the excellent Rochester Jewish Film Festival.
P.S. For reasons I don't understand, this movie has a dismal weighted IMDb average of 6.3. It's not a great film, but it's much better than that. The Camera Obscura is definitely worth seeing.
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