Some Girls (Algunas Chicas): Venice Review

Narrative and character is sacrificed to mood and visuals in a smartly dressed exploration of female emotion that starts out authentically intense before declining into pretentiousness.

Santiago Palavecino bravely plunges into the depths of female psychology in this edgy, rural-set psychodrama about the unraveling of a troubled mind.

An intimate, dreamy take on how one woman’s attempt to escape from herself goes badly wrong, Some Girls, despite its ironically breezy title, is earnest, somber fare indeed. In his first two films, director Santiago Palavecino showed his ability to unpick the psychology of human beings and their relationships by way of elliptically told narratives, striking images, and a sometimes too obvious desire to make big meanings. Girls, a riff on Italian writer Cesare Pavese's Among Women Only, continues in the same vein. The stylishness of this take on female depression is likely to generate sales interest for an item that often engages the head but rarely the heart.

Comparisons with Lucrecia Martel are perhaps inevitable in the film’s focus on mood rather than narrative: Surgeon Celina (Cecilia Rainero) escapes her separation from Esteban (Juan Barberini) to the house of a long-lost friend, Delfina (Agustina Liendo), living in the sticks with her partner Sergio (Argentinian writer and sometime actor Alan Pauls, who starred in Palavecino’s The New Life) and her stepdaughter Paula (Agostina Lopez). But Paula is missing.

It’s a setup that suggests a psychological thriller, but the thriller element is soon abandoned in favor of a purely psychological study. Paula’s friends, wealthy heiress and cynic Maria (Agustina Munoz) and Nene (Alin Salas), a mystic whose dreams are considered significant, pump Celina for any information they can get about Paula: and learn that she has attempted suicide. Following Paula’s recovery, Celina is drawn into their strange little group, who spent their time taking drugs provided by dealer and spouter of wisdom Morelli (German de Silva), lazing around in the pool, shooting rifles at a deer’s head stuck to a tree, and having sex.

The film is strongest in its moments of dark eroticism. Enhanced by low, sometimes almost inaudible, electronic humming, a convincing sense of ominous threat hangs pervasively over things, suggesting that something’s not quite right about either Celina or the microcommunity into which she’s been drawn. But when Nene solemnly starts intoning Portuguese death poetry over fragmented dream images, things begin tumbling out of control.

The script is not so vulgar as to explain just what trauma Celina has run away from, because neither she nor any of the other women can or want to verbalize the damage that life has in different way ways wrought on them. The pain and isolation of Celina’s depression is indexed mainly by her crying. Palavecino may be making a point about the final incommunicability of suffering, but dramatically the effect falls flat.

Performances have freshness and spontaneity, with Munoz having by some distance the most interesting character. But the real interest is in the dynamics of this odd little group, with its insecurities, jealousies and petty rivalries, and the fact that however much she may wish to, Celina will never really be a part of it.

DP Fernando Lockett, also responsible for The New Life, delivers one haunting image after another, with regular use of hand-held working alongside the visual poetry to unsettling effect, as though we’re watching a documentary of a depression victim’s dream. But whether deliberately or not, the distinction between what’s real and dreamt is sometimes straight-up confusing. (Several sequences also seem underlit.) Though one tracking shot in particular around a swimming pool is a tour de force, images of a burning hut and running horses suggest that Palavecino is gunning for some serious symbolism, but exactly what of is not clear. In its later stages, Girls seems to be straining for vague, general meanings about life, the universe and everything.

Irritatingly, the credits appear thirteen minutes in, which serves to break the mood but little else.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Horizons)
Producers: Agustina Costa Varsi, Fernando Manero, Santiago Palavecino
Cast: Cecilia Rainero, Agostina Lopez, Agustina Munoz, Ailin Salas, Agustina Liendo, Alan Pauls
Director-screenwriter: Santiago Palavecino
Director of photography: Fernando Lockett
Production designer: Victoria Marotta
Music: Agustina Crespo
Costume designer: Valentina Luppino
Editor: Delfina Castagnino, Andres Pepe Estrada
No rating, 100 minutes