Atlantida: Berlin Review
Argentine writer-director Ines Maria Barrionuevo makes her feature debut with this coming-of-age drama premiering in Berlin’s Generation section.
A dull and desolate backwater town is the setting for Atlantida, writer-director Ines Maria Barrionuevo’s tenderhearted but rather laconic portrait of two sisters drifting through a long hot summer day in rural Argentina. Reminiscent of fellow countrywoman Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienaga, but with less narrative pull and class consciousness, this low-key, handsomely photographed feature debut should see additional fest play following a premiere in Berlin’s Generation section, with possible niche pick-ups in Spanish-speaking territories.
Opening up with a series of disconnected, near-silent vignettes, the film eventually settles down to focus on two teenage sisters, Lucia (Melisa Romero) and Elena (Florencia Decal), who are stranded in their parents’ modest small-town home as the day begins. While the younger Elena is laid up in bed with a broken ankle, Lucia heads out early to a local swimming pool, where she meets up with Ana (Sol Zavala), a quiet girl her age with whom she gradually forms a very special bond.
Tracking the siblings from morning to night throughout a scorching countryside afflicted by droughts, power outages and water shortages, Barrionuevo is clearly less interested in developing a full-fledged drama than in concentrating on the little details of quotidian existence, and how they wind up changing who we are. It’s a rather withdrawn approach that recalls the work of both Martel and Lisandro Alonzo (Les Muertos), although there’s nothing sinister or violent hidden behind all the banal events, but rather an observed depiction of repressed adolescent woes.
The action picks up some as the day drags on, especially when Lucia grabs her parents’ truck and hits the road with Ana, while Elena accompanies a visiting doctor (Guillermo Pfening) on a house call that turns disturbingly bloody, though we never really learn what the deal is there. Things eventually come to a head as the sun sets and a storm rolls into town, washing away some of the narrative staleness – including a seemingly unrelated plot involving a young beekeeper -- although a little more dramatic push-and-pull would have been welcome here.
While the story never completely gains traction, Barrionuevo does a good job revealing those reticent, in-between moments of youth where both nothing and everything happens at the same time. Rather than using dialogue, she conveys much of this through beautifully shot, documentary-style imagery (by Ezequiel Salinas) that aptly captures the sweltering atmosphere of the surroundings, as well as the girls’ slow and stumbling climb towards adulthood.
Performances by a cast of relative newcomers are far from verbose, but fairly effective none the same. Decal is especially convincing as a whiny little sis who’s forced to grow up in the space of a single day.
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14plus)
Production companies: Germina Films
Cast: Melisa Romero, Florencia Decal, Sol Zavala, Guillermo Pfening
Director, screenwriter: Ines Maria Barrionuevo
Producer: Paola Suarez
Director of photography: Ezequiel Salinas
Production designer: Carolina Vergara
Costume designer: Sol Munoz
Editor: Rosario Suarez
Sales agent: Media Luna New Films
No rating, 78 minutes