It comes and goes with independent movies. The truth is they always seem to have something different to say, something more to say; but there are also times when they come with a straightforward story, filled with emotion, and you can't help to like them. At least that's how I see it in Argentina, thinking very quickly that, for example, "Un Oso Rojo" hasn't got any big or fundamental message, but tells a slice of life that gets right into your heart.
"La cámara oscura", the film by María Victoria Menis, is a piece of a strange nature, that couldn't enter into any of the groups I mentioned above (if there is such thing as those groups in the first place), simply because it's the first picture I've seen in a long time that doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to be.
It tells the story of Gertrudis (Mirta Bogdasarian), one of the children of a Jewish family that escapes from their home country to go to Argentina. Gertrudis comes to life from her mother's belly, and maybe that's the reason of her strange beauty, when she's coming down of the ship that brought her to Buenos Aires.
It's important that you notice the expression "strange beauty", because it's one of the fundamental aspects of the movie. There are two aspects that you would expect the writers to develop after witnessing Gertrudis' birth, but they sort of evade them. With this I mean that they do delevop these things but they don't do it fully, a fact that gives the film a simplistic look. There's an intention of representing a historical period in the country that never takes shape and there's a relationship of silence, more like indifference, between Gertrudis and her sisters; but everything is surpassed by the 'beauty' aspect.
Probably what I'm trying to present as the film's fundamental aspect is the only thing the film cares about, and this turns out to be a problem. When we understand that Gertrudis is seen as ugly by all the people around her, we feel obliged to feel sorry for her. This can never be possible in a movie, and least possible in a piece like this one, that only cares about a central character.
There's something secretly sad about a woman that only knows to watch her own feet and is not able to raise his head but nothing secret about the way "La cámara oscura" guides us towards this conclusion. The rest is background, and it's not attractive enough to carry a full-length feature. Like that failed attempt at meditation directed by Santiago Loza, "Extraño", Menis gives us beautiful images of beautiful fields in peaceful times. It shows us a family that lives happily by repeating a boring routine (which is understandable, due to the time period and the activity of the father, head of the family in question), and at times elevates the risk with animated sequences.
What I mean with thee fact that the film doesn't know what it wants to be can be appreciated just by watching it: "La cámara oscura" has nothing to say. If you read the first paragraph of this review, you could say I'm contradicting myself because I defend movies that don't have a fundamental message; but these films at least have something to say. Except for the final scene, during which I found myself smiling, this film has nothing to say, and therefore the viewer has nothing to feel.
However, "La cámara oscura" is a very interesting film because it tells a love story we're not accustomed to watch every day, and it tells it relying mostly on images and looks, without the need of using a lot of words; and that's always appreciated.
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