'My Friend From the Park' ('Mi amiga del parque'): Film Review

Mi Amiga del Parque still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Irrational mothers.

Argentinean actor-director Ana Katz ('A Stray Girlfriend') stars alongside Julieta Zylberberg in this messy meditation on motherhood.

A young Argentinean mother is desperate for some company in My Friend From the Park (Mi amiga del parque), the fourth feature from writer-director Ana Katz (A Stray Girlfriend). Shot in washed-out earthen colors and set during winter, this drama about motherhood and female friendships is a rather drab and bleak affair, in which convincingly lived-in performances never manage to compensate for the fact that character motivation is often murky at best. After its premiere in Sundance in the World Dramatic competition, this could gain some traction in the Hispanosphere, though chances of a wider breakout are minimal. The film's next stop is the Miami Film Festival. 

The harried Liz (Julieta Zylberberg) has a three-month-old child who requires constant love and attention and is the source of countless worries (some more founded than others). Liz, an aspiring novelist, has a bossy older woman (Mirella Pascual) helping her out at home for a couple of hours every day but otherwise she’s on her own, as her husband is shooting a documentary in Chile (great timing, new dad!). One assumes — a lot needs to be assumed, since it is not the kind of film that spells everything out or even drops useful hints — that Liz feels lonely and is still trying to get the hang of the whole mothering thing, which isn’t easy.

This might explain why she strikes up a friendship with a mysterious and more-than-a-little-pushy other mom, Rosa (played by the director), whose little one, Clarissa, is slightly older than Liz’s Nicanor. The two run into each other every day at the neighborhood park and end up having lunch together, during which Rosa asks if she’s writing a novel about motherhood. Liz’s answer that "not that many people would be interested" is clearly a direct complaint and a defense from Katz the director about the lack of female-driven stories and the importance of films such as her own. It’s a discordantly direct note in a film that’s otherwise often oblique when it comes to explaining motivations. 

And some motivation is necessary to stick with Liz, who continues to hang out with Rosa even as the latter becomes very adamant about using Liz’s car for some far-away errand and some of Liz’s other parental acquaintances from the park — all stick figures more than characters — have repeatedly suggested Rosa is bad news and might have even been involved in a vehicle theft. Is Liz enormously naive; overwhelmed and exhausted by her new tasks and responsibilities as a new mom; in desperate need of any female ally she can relate to or is she suffering from a light form of post-partum depression that has numbed her common sense?

Without any clear character insight, everything that unfolds feels odd, since neither Rosa nor Liz display what would be considered as regular human behavior. There’s the little fact, for example, that Rosa isn’t actually the caregiver of Clarissa at all but rather her aunt, with Rosa’s sister (Maricel Alvarez) the actual mother. This isn’t a simple misunderstanding but an intentional one created by Rosa, though it’s never clear to what (if any) benefit. Is she a compulsive liar? Does she secretly long to be a mother but can’t be one? Or is Rosa meant to be a physical manifestation of Liz’s confused state and her fears about not being fit for motherhood at all? Since audiences will often be too busy questioning the reasoning behind the characters’ behavior, the film’s underlying and potentially fascinating meditations on female bonds and the difficulties of motherhood never get a chance to organically rise from the material.

Maximiliano Silveira’s score, which could be described as mournful jazz, at least complements the opaque goings-on and the intentionally cheerless camerawork.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Dramatic Competition)

Production companies: Campo Cine, Laura, Mutante Cine, Sudestada Cine

Cast: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figo, Daniel Hendler

Writer-Director: Ana Katz

Producers: Nicolas Avruj, Diego Lerman, Ana Katz, Agustina Chiarino, Fernando Epstein, Ignacio Rey, Gaston Rothschild

Executive producer: Nicolas Avruj

Director of photography: Bill Nieto

Production designer: Eugenia Sueiro

Costume designer: Roberta Pesci

Editor: Andres Tambornino

Music: Maximiliano Silveira

Sales: Visit Films

No rating, 84 minutes