August 04, 2011

La Ciénaga (Argentina 2001)

In most films, the characters always actively do something. As they teach you in screenwriting seminars, characters have to have a goal - and if they don't have one from the beginning, they need to find one throughout the film. Ideally, they should undergo a certain development.

The characters in Lucrecia Martel's debut feature "La Ciénaga" have nothing to do at all. They don't have an immediately identifiable purpose. They don't become "better" persons throughout the film. They just lie around in the bed or by the pool. They take a shower. They are bored. They do stupid things. They drink. A lot.

This may not make them instantly appealing but it does make you feel close to them, especially if the situations in the film are somehow familiar to you. It helps that director Lucrecia Martel films them very intimately, often showing only parts of their body and not cutting away from mundane things. Her almost documentarian approach makes you one of them even if you refuse to be. She also generates an atmosphere of decay, enhanced by the heat and humity of the setting which can almost be felt. The film is a meditation on the moral decline of the middle class which - especially in Latin America - has to live with the fact that their newly found but still endangered financial security is based on them taking advantage of the lower classes. This suppression is omnipresent in the film and the real reason the characters in the film are so miserable. They lack any real values. Or as Patrick Bateman would say, they simply are not there.

I like films where nothing much happens on the surface. Films that force you to look closely. Films where the characters don't say much but that still "say" a lot. Films where the tension doesn't come from the plot. Films where important things happen between the lines. Films that only come together in your own head.

"La Ciénaga" is such a film. I am perfectly aware that many people may not like it. It was even included in a list called "Worst World Flms" someone made on the Internet. I can understand that even if it only makes me laugh. It is a film only for people who appreciate this kind of realistic, subtle cinema. Some may find it dull and boring. Others - including myself - brilliant.


Dog Day Afternoon: Sofia Bertolotto, Martín Adjemián

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