Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Film Comment Selects: A Week Alone (2007)

The robust intelligence who runs Tativille recommended I see Celina Murga's A Week Alone, and I happily obliged. Regrettably the only film I managed to catch at Film Comment Selects (someday I'll possess you, Jerichow and Revanche!), it's an entrancing tale about the childhood rituals inside a gated community outside of Buenos Aires. Winner of the best director prize at last year's Thessaloniki Film Festival, Murga's mise-en-scene is unerringly precise and layered, using the paraphenalia of youth (bottles of Nesquik, video games, bracelets, studded t-shirts) to establish the daily rhythms and power structure of a household. A tale loosely told but finely detailed, the first half establishes the lazy tempo of a group of rich kids left alone for a weekend, led by the teenager Maria. They hide 'n seek and Marco Polo to their hearts content in the deathly serene subdivision. Langorous tracking shots follow the kids through the greenery. Innocent, edenic, and eerie. It feels like the entire adult population has disappeared, leaving their twentysomething nanny, Estelle, as the only adult presence.

The turning point of the film is the arrival of Fernando, Estelle's brother. His appearance (from outside!) reveals the cloistered nature of Mary's brood, who are never seen outside the complex (Maria claims she's been to Buenos Aires a couple times, but wasn't a big fan). As Murga backs away from the family's POV, the extent of the subdivision's security apparatus is shown, with its armed guards and "copycops." Fernando is not allowed to enter the complex until a phalanx of phone calls is made to the AWOL parents. Pulling back the veil away from the idyllic first half, the neighborhood gains the feel of a fascist Club Med.

Murga allows Fernando's difference to permeate the children's routines slowly. They ask where he's from (Entre RĂ­os) so many times it becomes an incantation. He sneaks into the sides of frames, observing the ping pong and girl talk just like us, unsettling some of the male kids, intriguing the girls, including Maria and her pre-teen cousin, Sofi.

Murga displays this new arrangement of power through new rituals. Where once Maria held back on the way to school to abscond with her cousin, she now trails behind alone, eyeing Fernando. These small punctures in their routine build to a bit of childish vandalism, and their resulting capture by the copycops exposes the fissures of the group. Sofi, as elegantly laid out through the film, is a bridging agent, able to communicate with Estelle on a level beyond master-servant. She declares her urge to receive her First Communion, and inquires about her nanny's private life. This curiosity about the world outside her compound keeps this makeshift family from disintegrating.

Tativille already beat me to the punch on writing about this one, but I couldn't help it. So much so that I've already ordered her debut, Ana and the Others. More please.

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