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Argentine-born actresses Berenice Bejo (The Artist) and Martina Gusman (Leonera) could almost pass for twins in Pablo Trapero’s daringly modern The Quietude (La Quietud), set on the sprawling ranch of a wealthy family with many skeletons in the closet. When a family emergency brings everybody back home, old relationships are resumed and unresolved tensions explode. The winking, rather perverse sexual chemistry between the two charismatic lead actresses, who play sisters (though not twins), is one of the film’s main attractions.
But Trapero’s ambitious attempt to strike a unique tone somewhere between serious drama and humorous daytime TV falls awkwardly flat. The result is a middle-of-the-roader for Wild Bunch, though after its bows in Venice and Toronto the film should have no trouble coasting along at festivals, based on the reputation of its director and its delightful cast. Gusman and Bejo outdo themselves in vivid, unconventional, woman-power performances that should give the pic a special appeal for female audiences.
Following on the heels of the director’s well-received drama about a family of kidnappers, El Clan, this is a more freely scripted look at a well-to-do family wrapped in dark secrets. Here the moral rot only affects the older generation who are nearing the end of their lives, while their adult offspring flounder around and are forced to accept the consequences.
All this would be quite marginal and uninvolving, were it not for the story’s tragic underpinnings, which are revealed at the very end of the film and give the story much needed weight. They require some knowledge of Argentine history and of the horrors of the country’s military dictatorship (1976 to 1983) to assimilate. Unversed audiences will find the final reveal a little perplexing, though the gist is clear enough.
Symbolically, the drama takes place in a luxuriously appointed hacienda called (ironically, as it soon transpires) The Quietude. As business-like daughter Mia (Gusman) arrives, a furious fight is in progress between her aged father (Isidoro Tolcachir) and mother (veteran film actress Graciela Borges, who played the matriarch in Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienaga.) When Mia affectionately drives doddering old Dad to the district attorney’s office to answer questions about some property he owns, including La Quietude, he is felled by a sudden stroke that takes everyone’s mind off legal problems.
His illness brings Mia’s sister Eugenia (Bejo) flying in from Paris after a 10-year absence, and the family dynamics are set in motion. She and Mia are still extremely close and loving. In a surprise bonding scene, their easy, unconflicted sexuality is foregrounded as they masturbate together in bed, reminiscing about a muscular plumber who worked on the ranch when they were girls. It’s a little unsettling as an intro to their relationship, and its ambiguity is only heightened by the musical comment: a loudly sung “Amor completo” by Chilean singer Mon Laferte.
Emotional cracks appear, however, when Eugenia announces she’s pregnant, presumably by her companion in Paris, Vincent (Edgar Ramirez of Carlos the Jackal). But when he turns up at the ranch, things prove to be a lot more complicated than they seemed. Adding to the turmoil are ferocious spats between Mia and her hostile mother, Esmeralda (Borges), who stalks around like a diva in a silk dressing gown wielding a cigarette holder and casts a cold eye on her barely alive husband, who has slipped into a coma and is under a nurse’s care in their bedroom.
The movie’s tone shifts back and forth like the electricity on the ranch, which comes and goes and is finally ignored by all. One has to wonder how this story would have worked as a comedy. It certainly has farcical elements, like the return of Eugenia’s old beau Esteban (the romantic-looking Joaquin Furriel) and the uh-oh moment of Mia arriving at a funeral dead drunk. And how to interpret Aretha Franklin belting out “People” as commentary on the dysfunctional family group? But these ironic moments keep turning into melodramatic car crashes and unplugged life support systems, confusing the character-driven story.
Working on spacious sets and country views with DP Diego Dussuel, Trapero’s notable ability to use the camera to tell a story is natural and instinctive, as he focuses the story on the three women and leaves the men — Vincent, Esteban and the comatose father — in the background.
Production companies: Matanza Cine, Telefe
Cast: Martina Gusman, Berenice Bejo, Edgar Ramirez, Joaquin Furriel, Graciela Borges, Isidoro Tolcachir
Director-screenwriter: Paolo Trapero
Producers: Pablo Trapero, Axel Kuschevatzy
Executive producer: Alejandro Cacetta
Director of photography: Diego Dussuel
Production designer: Cristina Nigro
Costume designer: Monica Toschi
Editors: Alejandro Broderson, Pablo Trapero
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
World sales: Wild Bunch
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