The Swimming Pool (La Piscina): Berlin Review

La Piscina Film Still - H 2013

La Piscina Film Still - H 2013

A Cuban film on the borderline of experimental is contemplative and enigmatic

Four teenage outsiders spend a summer day at the pool.

BERLIN -- South American minimalism hits Cuba in a strange, borderline experimental film that simply observes a quartet of teenagers with physical disabilities on a summer day at the swimming pool, under the supervision of an enigmatic coach. In his first feature, Carlos Machado Quintela directs Abel Arcos’s screenplay with painterly rigor, using only long shots or close ups. And yet his presentation of the way the four kids interact emotionally is curiously engrossing. The most likely admirers for this brief anti-drama, just over an hour long, are the sophisticated end of festival audiences. It screened in the Berlin Panorama after winning a special jury award at the Havana New Directors festival and marks a director to watch in the future.

The film’s bold intentions are announced right off, as an overexposed white screen slowly burns in an image.  It’s a large public pool, empty in the early morning. A young bearded man warms up and swims a lap. This turns out to be Esteban (Raul Capote), the swimming instructor in charge of a little band of outsiders.

The young actors seem to have been cast for their piercing gazes which dominate the intense close-ups, never containing more than one face at a time. The first to arrive is Diana (Monica Molinet), a young green-eyed beauty and live-wire with one leg. She forms a pair with the gangly Rodrigo (Felipe Garcia), who has trouble walking. Dani (Marcos Costa), a Down’s boy with humorous round blue eyes, is friends with the glum, dark-eyed Oscar (Carlo Javier Martinez), who refuses to talk.

Yet despite their various problems, they all turn up at the pool for lessons. In the course of the film, they swim, take shelter from a thunderstorm, have lunch, and take a nap together. They laugh, taunt each other and fight. Esteban seems like a psychologist at times as he watches his charges act out their problems without interfering. The truth is, there are so few clues to what’s going on that the audience is invited to ask its own questions and draw its own conclusions.

Much of the film’s peaceful feeling comes from its slow, hypnotic pace and the judicious use of pastel colors and horizontal lines, restfully lensed by veteran D.P. Raul Rodriguez.

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 14, 2012.

Production companies: Alter Producciones Audiovisuales, CNAC, Villa de Cine Foundation, Ibermedia, ICAIC.

Cast: Raul Capote, Monica Molinet, Felipe García, Carlos Javier Martínez, Marcos Costa

Director: Carlos Machado Quintela

Screenwriter:Abel Arcos

Producers: Camilo Vives, Delfina Catala, Isabel Prendes, Sebastian Barriuso, Luis Abel Miyares

Director of photography: Raul Rodriguez

Production designer: Carlos Urdanivia

Editor: Alfredo Hueck

Sales Agent: M-Appeal

66 minutes