by Benjamín Harguindey
The 31st Mar del Plata International Film Festival is currently on its fifth running day. Lovely as it would be to cover all 36 competing feature-length movies across the three main categories in a 10-day span, we must compromise and as usual default to the International Competition, which after all climaxes in the festival’s top prize – the Golden Astor (in honor of tango composer Astor Piazzolla). So here’re some choice picks from the International Competition.
Our first movie from the International Competition is actually a local film, El future perfecto (“Future Perfect”), which premiered earlier this year at the 69th Locarno Film Festival. Written and directed by Nele Wohlatz, the film stars Xiaobin Zhang as a 17 year-old Chinese immigrant trying to make sense of her newfound reality in Buenos Aires.
As she is debriefed throughout the film by a voice unseen, Xiaobin retells a discrete coming-of-age tale in which she defies her family’s indifference towards their new home, actively seeking out work outside her parents’ laundromat and trying to learn the language. In doing so, her grasp of the future conditional becomes synonymous with a brave new world of possibilities beyond those expected by her rigorously traditional family. The result is an effective if not terribly insightful portrait – we never see Xiaobin as a character, but rather a case in point. Obviously the director is less interested in her than she is in crafting her analogy and then musing about it.
Next is Era el cielo (“The Silent Sky”), an international co-production directed by Brazilian Marco Dutra, written by Argentines Sergio Bizzio, Lucía Puenzo and Caetano Gotardo (based on a novel by Bizzio) and filmed in Montevideo, Uruguay. The movie is a dramatic thriller in the vein of Gone Girl (2014): the life of a married couple in idyllic suburbia is crippled by a crime to which both parties are somehow complicit because they refuse to reveal their true nature to each other.
Off the get-go Diana (Carolina Dieckmann) is raped at her house, but chooses to keep it a secret from her husband; little does she know that Mario (Leonardo Sbaraglia) not only saw the deed, but did nothing to stop it. Perhaps in denial over his own cowardice, Mario chooses to make a suspect out of Diana and starts investigating her and one of her attackers, Néstor (Chino Darín).
The POV is largely Mario’s and we get some unnecessary noir-style narration as he explains his own character (he’s a screenwriter, always a handy hand-wave), on top of which the script throws some jarringly obvious symbolism. All of this threatens to undercut the subtleties of Dutra’s direction, the slick camera work and the fine acting of the leads, but for the most part the movie survives its flaws and provides an enthralling enigma (with a less than satisfying ending).
The exact opposite is true of People That Are Not Me, an Israeli movie written, directed and starring Hadas Ben Aroya. This is a hard movie to talk about because much of its power hinges on its ending. Up until that point it’s your typical mumblecore romp, with Aroya casting herself in the Greta Gerwig role, albeit a darker one.
On the very first scene, Joy logs on Skype completely naked and tearfully implores for her ex boyfriend to take her back. It only gets sadder and more desperate from there. She hooks up with old flame Nir (Yonatan Bar-Or) and the movie chronicles her awkward attempts at meaningful intimacy in an open relationship in which Nir isn’t even all that interested. The finale of the movie itself is brilliant in that not only does it answer the nagging question of Joy’s plight, but it also takes the viewer to a whole new level of implied dreadfulness – and then it ends, cutting to black.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).