What I Love the Most -- Film Review

Challengingly low-key study of friendship plays like an Argentinean variant on the "mumblecore" movement.

SAN SEBASTIAN — Two women in their 20’s ponder the state of their friendship and their lives in "What I Love the Most,” a promising feature debut from the multi-tasking director/writer/producer/editor Delfina Castagnino. Firmly operating at the rarefied arthouse end of Argentina's cinematic output, this rural-set, video-shot affair will appeal to festivals. The fact that Castagnino is a sometime collaborator with her nation's poet of slow-burning head-scratchers, Lisandro Alonso ("Liverpool,” "Los Muertos"), will further boost exposure for this cautiously-crafted miniature.

Playing characters who share their own names, Pilar Gamboa and Maria Villar etch compassionate, convincing portrayals of the twin leads. Pilar lives in a remote corner of the country's south, in a village where her recently deceased father's saw mill was a principal source of employment. Actress Maria comes to visit her longtime best friend from Buenos Aires, where she is in the process of breaking up with her boyfriend. The pair while away the hours in some strikingly scenic locations in this lake-dotted idyll, drifting together and apart as each deals with changes that are afoot in their lives.

Though Pilar and Maria's friendship's is the film's main focus, it's interesting that the two most memorable and effective scenes show the girls engaging with others — the sensitive Pilar informing the sawmill's workers that she's having to close it down for a spell, and the more free-spirited Maria enjoying an extended, flirtatious night-time chat with a local lad.

In these sequences Castagnino's ear for dialogue and eye for composition are showcased to maximum impact. In the sawmill sequence Gamboa's unfussy handling of what becomes a very emotional scene is highly impressive.

But for all its virtues, "What I Love the Most" ("Lo que más quiero") is too uneven, too stop-start in its rhythms to really build in terms of narrative or character development. Verisimilitude is a fine goal in itself, but for a feature-length film it's not quite enough to fully sustain our interest and empathy on its own.

Castagnino drops an early hint to her ambitions when she shows one of the characters immersed in a book by Raymond Carver, a literary master of endowing the most ordinary of situations into the most revealing and universal of stories. But what Carver routinely pulled off is much harder than he made it look. As Castagnino ultimately proves, still waters don't always run especially deep.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production companies: Castagninos, Buenos Aires
Cast: Pilar Gamboa, María Villar, Esteban Lamothe, Leonardo Castañeda
Director: Delfina Castagnino
Screenwriter: Delfina Castagnino
Producers: Santiago Castagnino, Delfina Castagnino, Ivan Eibuszyc, Felicitas Soldi
Director of photography: Soledad Rodríguez
Production designer: Sofia Berakha
Music: Maxi Trusso
Editor: Delfina Castagnino
Sales: Castagninos, Buenos Aires
No rating, 76 minutes