'The Exact Shape of the Islands' ('La forma exacta de las islas'): Film Review

A fine-spun and moving meditation on trauma, memory and loss, so delicately woven that it sometimes verges on the insubstantial.

Prizewinning Argentinian documentary about a filmmaker in search of the "truth" about the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands conflict.

The intriguing title of this intriguing film is easily explained. The islands are the Malvinas, or the Falklands, depending on where you stand: the 1982 conflict over them between Britain and Argentina left the latter defeated and traumatized. As Julieta Vitullo, the subject of the film, puts it: “Two bites were taken out of the hearts of every one of us, and they have the exact shape of the islands”. The film, gut-wrenching and poetically gentle at the same time, is not about the conflict, but about its emotional consequences, about feelings rather than politics. Its interestingly skewed perspective on a historical event of global interest merits consideration from thinking festivals.

It is three stories about three encounters, separately recounted and overlapping. The first is the story of Vitullo, who initially visited the islands in 2006 doing research for a thesis on how the conflict has been represented in books and film. There she met Carlos Enriori and Dacio Agretti, two veterans who were eighteen at the time of the conflict and who have returned after 24 years away to settle old emotional scores. The third is the story of Vitullo herself, who returned to the islands in 2010 with the directors. This time, she was seeking emotional closure of her own, for reasons which are strikingly revealed only over Shape’s final minutes. Shape itself is a big part of that closure.

The air of trauma, of something violently lost which can never be recaptured, hovers over everything. Apart from the collective damage done to Argentina following the defeat, and which endures even now, there was the damage to the Falklands: one interviewee explains that after the conflict, communication with mainland Argentina ceased. Then there are the traumas of the combatants: Agretti and Enriori offer differing perspectives, but agree on the key issue that most of the young soldiers at the time had no idea why they were there (seven hundred of them died, one of them in Enriori’s arms).

And then there's Vitullo’s personal trauma: exploring it against a background of the collective trauma of a nation could easily come across as arrogant and self-regarding. But the carefully crafted echoes and resonances across the film’s three strands mean that it does not.

Shape largely consists of Vitullo’s jerky Handycam footage from her 2006 trips as she accompanies the effervescent Enriori and more muted Agretti on their personal journey of redemption, revisiting the bleak, inhospitable sites they were posted to and recording their conflicted reactions. Their reflections show what they’ve learned from their return. As Agretti observes, while in Argentina the scars have not yet healed, on the islands the people have moved on.

Landscapes, stunningly filmed by DP Leonardo Hermo as a broken sequence of perfectly-framed, majestic land and seascapes, act as a silent running commentary on things. At one point Agretti is struck by discovering that this terrain, which for him is associated with the horrors of war, is actually very beautiful.

But stunning and symbolic as they are, Casabe and Dieleke dedicate a little too much time to these landscapes, and to Vitullo’s lingering if meaningful footage of the cemetery in Port Stanley. It’s time which could have been spent grappling more substantially with the immense and complex issues the film has raised.


Production company: Ajimolido Films
Cast: Julieta Vitullo, Carlos Enriori, Dacio Agretti, John Fowler, Tony Smith, Rob Ysell
Directors: Daniel Casabe, Edgardo Dieleke
Screenwriters: Dieleke, Casabe, Vitullo
Producer: Alejandro Israel:
Director of photography: Leonardo Hermo
Editors: Casabe, Andres Pepe Estrada
Composer: Leonardo Martinelli
No rating
85 minutes

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