At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

LA CIENAGA

By • Feb 16th, 2015 •

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Argentina. Hot and Humid.
La Mandragora . Sedentary drunkenness with mottled moments of coherency.
Life. Marred by resentment and distrust chaptered between accident and misfortune.

Peering into the lives of a lazy alcoholic couple at their summer retreat (La Mandragora) with four teenage children and servants, the decrepitude of their bodies and souls are housed within the dilapidated ruins of the property. Their static lives, fueled by booze and malcontent while moving in slow motion with a refusal to address and rectify the issues at hand, notably their marriage, well beyond the bounds of reconciliation, will stew in the unforgiving summer heat.

Tali lives in the city with her children facing the day to day issues of family life. She is concerned for her cousin Mecha, drinking her life away at the summer retreat. Although she has her own concerns to contend with, she takes the initiative to visit Mecha, who suffered a hooch-infused unbalanced free fall resulting in a face-down poolside wallop with multiple glass shard lacerations.

The drunken bloody mess goes unnoticed by the others lounging alongside the contaminated unfiltered hazardous pool. The shrill shattering of glass didn’t quite phase the inebriated nor did it seem to get the full attention from Mecha, whose daughter quickly comes to her much needed assistance for medical aide. One gets the idea that the group mentality is: better to spill blood than to spill wine.

A melancholy static lifestyle is interrupted by the eruption of adolescent energy. The kids run about in wild abandon in a harsh, unforgiving terrain. They club fish with machetes and fire rifles that mimic the menace of echoing thunder. They are all dirty in a breeding ground for ticks and a multitude of tropical insects.

An unhealthy and unproductive complacency surrounds their situations. What must get done is put off with a lackadaisical attitude. One kid is missing an eye – eventually he will get one. Our marriage is over – move to the other bedroom. A cow is stuck in the mud – leave it or we’ll just shoot it. What is of importance is ice. Mecha orders a small refrigerator for her bedside, guaranteeing easy access to cool her ever flowing glasses of alcohol.

Casting judgment and unwarranted verbal scoldings are Mecha’s forte. From the opening, she is cruel to Isabel, a house servant, claiming that she steals the towels. When the telephone rings endlessly, as everyone is either too drunk or just too lazy to answer, she goes on verbal rampages to belittle the servants by calling them ‘lazy Indians.’ Her children are guilty of this sin as the indigenous people are chided by them as ‘savages.’ After the fishing scene, the kids throw away the catch claiming that it’s not edible, but “they will eat anything.” Everyone falls short of meeting this family’s standards – even the doctor is referred to as ‘gringo.’

It’s a house of moral decay. One daughter’s references to Isabel are amatory, the children lounge in underwear and give the sense of incestuous relationships, the son’s involvement in a “love triangle” adds to the destitution and bankruptcy of their lives.

The mood of the film is conveyed to the viewer successfully, offering no ambiguity or possibilities to stray from the director’s intentions. The transcendence to the heaviness and claustrophobic atmosphere is weighted upon us. The pacing and the selected images at the opening carry the tone. Director Lucrecia Martel did a fantastic job taking us on this journey. It’s a tough visit to this family, just be thankful it’s only for a short time.

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