Sunday 5 March 2023

La Ciénaga [2001]

 The stunning opening sequence of La Ciénaga – the spellbinding debut by Lucrecia Martel, one of the most original voices in contemporary cinema – began with a viscerally arresting depiction of torpor, ennui and vacuousness, wherein a group of flabby, lethargic, inebriated middle-aged adults – idling in sweltering weather, beside a pool filled with putrid, brackish water – are in such a stupor that when one of them slips, falls and cuts herself, others barely react. By putting us in the middle of this messy, ambiguous scene, Martel made it clear that the viewers will need to figure out the characters and their inter-dynamics themselves as the intricately orchestrated narrative unfolded, and in turn marvellously set the stage for the film’s brooding, clammy, chaotic, sensuous and hypnotic atmosphere ominously seething with violence. Martel trained her lens on the extended, cash-strapped, upper-middle-class families of the slothful, alcoholic Mecha (Graciela Borges) – comprising of her dazed husband, pubescent daughter (Sofia Bertolotto) who’s homoerotically enamoured by the family’s Indian servant girl who Mecha verbally abuses, handsome adult son whose playful frolicking with his cousin sister is borderline incestuous, and a one-eyed son addicted to hunting – and Mecha’s saner but acquiescent sister Tali (Mercedes Morán) – comprising of her patronizing husband and three kids, including a little son led to believe in phantom cat-eating African dog-rats. Mecha and Tali make vague plans of visiting Bolivia, their kids indulge in meaningless pursuits verging on disaster, and the television relentlessly covers a Catholic miracle. Simmering socio-political critique – bourgeois self-centredness, racial prejudices, class boundaries, religious frenzy, sexual undercurrents and familial malaise – were, therefore, enmeshed into the desultory proceedings, interlaced with terrific use of diagetic sounds, including captivating lo-fi music playing on stereos.

Director: Lucrecia Martel

Genre: Drama/Family Drama

Language: Spanish

Country: Argentina

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