So Much Water: Berlin Review
Uruguayan writer-director team Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge find humor and poignancy in a rained-out family vacation in this coming-of-age story.
BERLIN – In the words of the great Pixies song that plays over the end credits of So Much Water (Tanta Agua): it is time for “Stormy Weather.” But while the dominant elements in this compassionately observed coming-of-age story are the hormonal tempest of a 14-year-old girl and the rain that continually pours down, Uruguayan filmmaking team Ana Guevara and Leticia Jorge’s first feature is graced by a disarming lightness of touch, even when things seem darkest.
Relatively little happens for long stretches of time in the intimate family snapshot. But while some minor trimming probably wouldn’t hurt, the film is never less than absorbing and often quite a bit more. It’s a small movie, but a sweet one that suggests feelings still fresh in the memories of the young writer-directors. That doesn’t mean they romanticize their co-protagonist, Lucia (Malu Chouza). On the contrary, they show her at her worst – selfish, insensitive, deceitful and sullen. But they refuse to judge her, merely registering that a difficult emotional stage yields difficult behavior.
Their tender gaze extends to all three principal characters – divorced dad Alberto (Nestor Guzzini) and his two children, Lucia and kid brother Federico (Joaquin Castiglioni) – as they navigate a week of claustrophobic confinement during a vacation together.
A good-humored guy who obviously wants to make his limited time with the kids count, Alberto nonetheless knows better than to push too hard. On the long car trip from Montevideo, where they live with their mother, to a spa town in the North West, he stoically puts up with being ignored. Fede snoozes on the backseat while Lu pouts and stays plugged into her iPod.
Things get no easier when they arrive at their destination, “the spring water capital of Uruguay,” just as heavy rain sets in for the week. With the pools closed due to electrical storm warnings, and the area’s fishing and sightseeing opportunities curtailed, they spend a lot of time stuck in their dreary bungalow-style motel.
It’s not that the uncommunicative kids aren’t fond of their father, but they don’t know how to be around him. While Fede is young enough to be malleable and easily amused, Lucia is terminally bored, in a way that only teenagers can be. This reads as a stubborn refusal to find pleasure in any inclusive occasion. Alberto is occasionally prickly about it, but mostly keeps a lid on his feelings, valiantly continuing to look for ways for the trio to enjoy themselves as a family.
The scenario could be played as sour-sweet comedy, soap or angst-ridden drama. But the writer-directors simply depict it with unembellished naturalism. Partly by necessity, given how much time is spent in tight quarters like the car or the motel room, Maria Jose Secco’s camera sticks close to the characters, and this helps the filmmakers coax the humor and the melancholia with the gentlest of hands. The unaffected work of the actors is key, both during the uncomfortable spells of boredom and especially when mutual exasperation with the situation drives the three family members to seek distraction elsewhere.
Alberto finds it in a quick fling with the motel receptionist (Romina Rocca). Fede gets chummy with a kid in a neighboring cabin (Valentino Muffolini). And Lu hangs out at the convenience store, sneaking cigarettes, playing video games and striking up a friendship with Madelin (Sofia Azambuya), a vivacious blond beauty around the same age. She becomes an unwelcome intrusion, however, when Santi (Pedro Duarte), the guy Lucia has quietly been eyeing since they arrived, shows more interest in Madelin. Lu plots to get around the obstacle, but opens herself up to humiliation and disappointment in the process.
It may seem like the stuff of neat happy endings that Alberto finally achieves some closeness with Federico and Lucia when they lean on him after being hurt, and in his daughter’s case, after she gives him considerable cause for anger. But that resolution is quiet and unforced, which is consistent with this charming film as a whole.
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Panorama)
Production companies: Control Z Films, Bonita Films, Topkapi Films, Komplizen Film
Cast: Malu Chouza, Nestor Guzzini, Joaquin Castiglioni, Sofia Azambuya, Pedro Duarte, Andres Zunini, Romina Rocca, Valentino Muffolini
Director-screenwriters: Ana Guevara, Leticia Jorge
Producers: Agustina Chiarino, Fernando Epstein
Executive producer: Agustina Chiarino
Director of photography: Maria Jose Secco
Production designer: Nicole Davrrieux
Music: Maximiliano Angelieri
Editors: Ana Guevara, Leticia Jorge, Yibran Asuad
Sales: Alpha Violet
No rating, 102 minutes