Berlin Film Review: Salsipuedes

Mid-length Argentinian study of an abusive relationship finds little new to say about familiar subject-matter.

Director Mariano Luque's movie focuses in the troubled marriage of a couple who travels for a mid-summer vacation in a heavily wooded rural camping area.

An intimate portrait of slow-burning domestic abuse that feels awkwardly overstretched even at 65 minutes, Salsipuedes is a lukewarm featurette of questionable interest even to festivals specializing in upcoming Latin American talent. There's some occasional evidence of talent here, but overall not enough to make 25-year-old director/writer/editor Mariano Luque stand out from a very crowded field.

PHOTOS: TOP TEN Berlinale Film Festival

Indeed, uninvolving affairs such as this are perhaps what Cannes supremo Thierry Frémaux had in mind when he commented recently that Argentine film-making has "committed suicide" by turning out movies solely aimed at the festival circuit. Ironically enough, Salsipuedes actually showed at Cannes last year -- in a 44-minute version -- as part of the Cinéfondation section for student films. And if anything, Luque might have been better off heading in the opposite direction and trimming his material down to a more conventional short-film length.

Taking place in the central part of the country which gives the movie its name, Salsipuedes focuses with claustrophobic intensity on the troubled marriage of Carmen (Mara Santucho) and Rafa (Marcelo Arbach), a seemingly childless couple in their late thirties or early forties who have traveled from the city -- probably the capital Buenos Aires - for a mid-summer vacation in a heavily wooded rural camping area. Their tense relationship spills over into (unseen) violence at times thanks to Rafael's macho irritability, leaving Carmen nursing a swollen eye and longing for solitude. The arrival of her mother and sister provides a welcome distraction from coping with Rafael's verbal bulling -- but not for long.

"You smell a lot -- you must be infected" sneers Rafael to his wife during one typically unpleasant exchange, their situation a classic example of a man dominating his spouse to the extent that she feels powerless to escape. Luque and his cinematographer Natalia König have a fondness for closeups -- executed in widescreen digital-video -- that place the emphasis firmly on the capable performers, and which mean that the atmosphere of this lushly fecund resort is largely conveyed by means of Erwin Otoño and Guido Denir's sound-design. Among occasional glimpses of the greenery, they provide a subdued, ever-present background noise of insects, birds, rippling water and rustling leaves.

PHOTOS: 7 Hot Films to Watch at Berlin Film Festival 2012

As an editor, Luque favors long, static shots with minimal dialogue -- what has become the default style for artistically-inclined young film-makers in so many parts of the world. But while he may have studied the works of his internationally-acclaimed compatriots like Lucrecia Martel and Lisandro Alonso, he's yet to find his own distinctive authorial voice. If the aim is to make us feel annoyed at Rafael's bullying antics and impatient with Carmen's stoic forbearance, Salsipuedes succeeds all too well -- but these points could surely have been conveyed with much more effectiveness in a fraction of the running-time.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Forum)
Production company: KL Audiovisual
Cast: Mara Santucho, Marcelo Arbach, Mariana Briski, Camila Murias
Director / Screenwriter / Editor: Mariano Luque
Producers: José Benassi, Natalia König, Mariano Luque, Erwin Otoño
Executive producers: Pablo Katlirevsky, Abril López, Julia Rotondi
Director of photography: Natalia König
Production designer: Jimena Bustos
Costumes: Blanca Gómez
Music: Juan Manuel Ceballos, Rafael Ibarborde
Sales Agent: KL Audiovisual, Córdoba, Argentina
No rating, 65 minutes