It's Your Fault -- Film Review

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SAN SEBASTIAN -- A textbook example of how cinema can make much from slight, unpromising materials, "It's Your Fault" ("Por tu culpa") is a skilfully constructed study of a woman on the edge of being an abusive parent. The ambiguous nature of that edge -- and where our "heroine" stands upon it -- is the essence of this deceptively powerful third feature from Argentinian writer/director Anahi Berneri. More admirable than likeable, it's nevertheless a strong choice for festivals willing to take a chance on well-made but prickly fare.

Indeed, the early stretches are nearly suffocating in their claustrophobic intensity as we observe, sometimes at very close range, the struggles of Julieta (Erica Rivas) with her hyper-energetic young children in their well-appointed Buenos Aires apartment. Via phone calls, we learn that Julieta hasn't long been separated from her husband Guillermo (Ruben Viani), and that their kids, precocious 8-year-old Valentin and little Teo (played by real-life siblings Nicasio and Zenon Galan), shuttle between their parents.

With Guillermo delayed in transit from a business trip, Julieta must look after the tots for a few extra hours. But she's up against a work-related deadline and clearly isn't very good at juggling her various activities. Rough horseplay with the children gets out of hand and Teo suffers a fall, temporarily losing consciousness. Panicking, Julieta sets off for the hospital with both kids in tow, Here her problems quickly escalate when a consultant notices that the tyke "has lots of bruises."

Berneri slowly reveals her agenda in "It's Your Fault." The sly screenplay, co-written with Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival's chief Sergio Wolf, doles out incidents and character details in incremental fashion so that Julieta moves almost imperceptibly from harassed, put-upon, overwhelmed mom to a figure of considerable psychological and moral ambiguity.

Technical contributions combine to help immensely in this regard, especially cinematographer Willi Behnisch's mostly hand-held deployment of the Red One digital camera. His in-the-thick-of-things proximity to events makes it very difficult for us to form easy, definite view of what we are being shown.

There is much to ponder and debate here, in a film which will be of special interest to those who deal with child-abuse cases. It's unfortunate, however, that in movie which explores tricky moral areas relating to infants should itself expose its own youngest participant to what is evidently actual distress: such are his screams and tears, one doesn't have to be a parent to feel a twinge of concern for little Zenon Galan's welfare at certain junctures.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production company: BD Cine, Tu Vas Voir
Cast: Erica Rivas, Nicasio Galan, Zenon Galan, Ruben Viani, Marta Bianchini
Director: Anahi Berneri
Screenwriters: Anahi Berneri, Sergio Wolf
Producers: Daniel Burman, Diego Dubcovsky
Director of photography: Willi Behnisch
Production designer: Aili Chen
Music: Sebastian Bianchini
Costume designer: Roberta Pesci
Editor: Eliane Katz
Sales: Bavaria Film International
No rating, 87 minutes
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