'Eugenia': Film Review

Courtesy of FiGa Films
One for the sisterhood.

Martin Boulocq reteams with Andrea Camponovo for a low-key but recognizable drama about the quagmires of modern womanhood in Bolivia and beyond.

A young woman struggles with achieving self-actualization and fulfillment in the aftermath of a divorce in Bolivian filmmaker Martin Boulocq’s most accomplished film to date, the understated Eugenia. Unfolding in his Cochabamba hometown, the pic is an intimate, current and universal portrait of womanhood starring his real-life wife, the effortlessly engaging and relatable Andrea Camponovo. The pair collaborated on Boulocq’s Los viejos, and if they stay on this low-key, quietly observant road about ordinary struggle, they could turn into a sort of South American Cassavetes and Rowlands.

As a nearly thematic 180-degree about-face from Los Viejos’ examination of the legacy of totalitarianism in Bolivia, Eugenia explores the far more personal. The movie isn’t reinventing the wheel, but its modest insights and Eugenia’s resonant dilemma should put it on the festival circuit (it won the screenwriting prize at Guadalajara International Film Festival). Streaming services (it’s been picked up by Amazon) are also a strong choice for the film’s personal tone.

Perhaps the subject matter inspired quintuple-threat Boulocq (writer, editor, producer and cinematographer this time around, too) to zero in on Camponovo’s Eugenia as a layered character rather than just exploiting the gorgeous Bolivian mountain landscape for easy metaphor. Dispensing almost entirely (key word being almost) with the country’s history as a context or backdrop for his story (radical socialist president Evo Morales appears in posters in the background, there’s no mention of water or gas riots) makes Eugenia arguably Boulocq’s most accessible film so far as well, more so even than his debut, The Most Beautiful of My Very Best Years, with its quasi-love triangle and dead end struggle narrative.

Eugenia’s personal makeover starts with unsatisfying car sex, illustrated by some clinical, post-carnal clean-up and an unsubtle brush-off, all in disjointed close-up. That’s followed by a possible argument with her husband and finally a visit with her mother. Along the way she decides she’s had enough of both the relatively small Tarija and her husband (the source of her discontent is revealed later on), and she packs up and heads for Cochabamba, reasoning with friends that it’s time for her to do what she wants to and pursue her ambitions.

In the city, Eugenia crashes with her father (Ricardo Gumucio), his much younger second wife (Alejandra Lanza) and their son Emi (Emilio Lanza); picks up a job as a makeup artist; and enrolls in culinary school. In between, she does what most untethered young women do: She checks out some bars and clubs, explores her new home and reconnects with her father, allowing him to regale her with tales of his guerilla days. At one point, she dabbles in movie stardom, agreeing to help out a “woke” indie filmmaker (Daniel Abud) with his low-budget biopic of Che Guevara’s unsung female co-revolutionaries, and, of course, lesbianism with an attractive woman (Rafaela Mesquita) she meets in a nightclub. It all ends with an inconvenient message that compels Eugenia to rethink her life yet again.

Eugenia has an almost picaresque format, chronicling the titular character’s experiments in self and slow blossoming into who she may finally become before her plans are possibly derailed. With few exceptions, this is Eugenia’s — and Camponovo’s — film. The other characters remain largely anonymous; drift for a split second and names vanish in the ether if anyone is given a name at all. Camponovo turns in an intensely internalized performance that relies on subtle shifts in the way she sets her mouth, the direction of her gaze and even how she carries herself. She telegraphs little frustrations and minor confusions with nuance and grace until they bubble to surface and explode.

It’s easy to believe that without Camponovo’s easy empathy, Boulocq wouldn’t have much of a film. Despite the focus on the title character, Eugenia is not, in fact, drawn to represent All Women, and the sketches of others she encounters — a salon client that talks about losing a job opportunity because she had the audacity to have children is particularly pithy — do an elegant job of acknowledging there’s more to the struggle for feminine perfection than just what Eugenia is experiencing without bogging down the spare script. As is the case with the rest of his work, Boulocq’s rich black-and-white images (using vintage Kern Paillard Bolex Super 16 lenses) are among the pic's strongest elements, the stark contrast nicely mirroring Eugenia’s emotional progress.

Production company: CQ Films
U.S. distributor: Amazon
Cast:
Andrea Camponovo, Alejandra Lanza, Alvaro Eid, Alicia Gamio, Ricardo Gumucio, Daniel Abud, Emilio Lanza, Rafaela Mesquita
Director-screenwriter: Martin Boulocq
Producer: Andrea Camponovo, Rolando Lora, Martin Boulocq
Director of photography:
Martin Boulocq
Costume designer: Andrea Camponovo
Editor: Martin Boulocq
Music: Diego Boulocq
World sales: 
FiGa Films

In Spanish
82
minutes