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La Cienaga (The Swamp)

     Not since Sunset Boulevard has there been an estate this oddly populated and a swimming pool this tepid and nonfunctional as in the semi-Bunuelian La Cienaga (The Swamp), a deserved Berlin Film Festival prizewinner from first-time Argentian director, Lucrecia Martel. Fiftyish mother-of-four Mecha (Graciela Borges), residing in a dank, sweaty, lost town in Northern Argentina, gets drunk and ditsy beside her filthy pool, unhappy because her passive, ex-philandering husband, Gregorio (Martin Adjemian) takes no notice of her; and even the maid, Isabel (Andrea Lopez), ignores the fact that Mecha, complaining of untrustworthy Indian help, has fired her for stealing towels. Instead, Isabel lies around in a bed of her employers, next to Mecha's teenage daughter, Momi (Sofia Bertolutto), who has a crush on her. Nothing happens sexually, nor does much happen with anyone else, though the movie is filled with half-naked bodies lying sweltering on top of each other in various boudoirs: unrealized lesbianism, unrequited incest. As the title implies, life is a swamp, with purposeless people wallowing about. Is there an out? Peasants in the neighboring town site the Virgin Mary, so maybe she's in Argentina. Probably not. And Mecha, desperate for salvation, keeps planning with her cousin a shopping trip to Bolivia. Sigh! One can't help but remember Chekhov's unhappy three sisters pining to get to Moscow.

(November, 2001)


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