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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

La Ciénaga (2001) d. Lucrecia Martel

Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, made La Cienaga (2001)

Movie Review
La Ciénaga (2001)
d.  Lucrecia Martel
Criterion Collection #743

   After going a couple weeks without watching a Criterion Collection title on their Hulu Plus channel, I find myself idly wondering during quiet moments about what is new.  Only 416 Criterion Collection titles are on the Hulu Channel, and I've made it through 237 of those, more or less.  I think maybe 25 plus of what's left are the Zatoichi samurai series and I'm not watching all of them, leaving about 150 movies available. Most of those remaining are Japanese films followed by Italian and French films.  Of the non Hulu plus available Criterion Collection films, many of them are the best known American releases- Wes Anderson's movies, Repo Man, movies like that.  I'd say I've watched maybe half of those films.  So honestly, the project of viewing all of the Criterion Collection films is not especially complicated, if only because you can knock out more than half as part of a 7.99 a month Hulu Plus subscription.

   What have I learned?  A LOT about European art films of the 1950s and 1960s.  Even more about Japanese film from that same time period.  Less about smaller national cinemas and underappreciated American independent and genre films.  Nothing about mainline Hollywood hits.  If you were to predict the trajectory of future additions to the Criterion Collection, I would say that "World Cinema," especially films from non-traditional film industries, is likely to be the biggest area for growth.

  For a good example of both the present and future of the Criterion Collection, you could do worse than La Ciénaga (2001) by Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel.  Portraits of dysfunctional upper middle class families are a subject near and dear to the heart of the Criterion Collection and "serious" film makers everywhere.  It has been that way from the beginning of European art film and it probably mirrors the larger cultural interest in Freud and family psychology that dates from the beginning of the 20th century.

   La Ciénaga sits firmly in the tradition of the disintegrating "European" bourgeois family, though here the family is Argentinian.   Although the accompanying essay on the Criterion Collections' website situates Martel among a tradition of 'new Argentinian' filmmaking informed by the economic turmoil of the 1990s, I saw this film as a fairly straight forward regional take on this larger genre.  To her credit, Martel employs a diffuse and elliptical film making style that lessens the familiarity of the milieu, but to me the pleasure was in an artist doing a nuanced take on an already popular number.

  Fans of dissolute bourgeois families and their drama will enjoy La Cienaga, for those not in that category, it will be the filmmaking technique that jumps out.  This technique is best expressed as "hazy" and "gauzy"... it reminded me of a less polished variation on the films of Sofia Coppola.  There isn't a main character at all, unless you count the decayed vacation home in which the action takes place.  This house is like the embodiment of the locations in novels like Under the Volcano, where the geographic landscape mirrors the decrepitude of the characters.  In particular, the unclean, murky green pool on the back patio of the house is like a psychic tumor hovering just off screen.

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