Dir: Anahi Berneri. Argentina 2007. 96 mins.
A subtle character study of a once-famous TV actress who is past her sell-by date, Encarnacion confirms Anahi Berneri as one of the most promising of Argentina 's new wave of directors, after her well-received AIDS-themed debut A Year Without Love (2005). Though the film struggles to fill out its feature-length running time (it would have been perfect at around 70 minutes), Encarnacion nevertheless has much to offer patient viewers who are prepared to forfeit the rush of drama for the more delicate satisfactions of a well-executed cinematic portrait that plays intriguingly with the audience's sympathies.
Produced by Diego Dubcovsky and Daniel Burman, and picked up by Bavaria just before its Toronto world premiere, Encarnacion should at least equal the tally of eight territories outside of Latin America notched up by A Year Without Love. It's one of those understated works that builds and lingers outside of the cinema - which suggests a limited release in urban arthouses prepared to hold out for a steady word-of-mouth engagement.
When we first see ageing starlet Erni Levier (Silvia Perez), she is Googling herself: a neat way of establishing both her thirst for attention and the fact that she hasn't had any big roles for years. She then turns up late for the premiere of a film starring a much younger actor she seems to be romantically involved with - and tells him he was great in the role, though we know she'd been sitting in the bar until the film finished.
She's full of airs, sashaying like all eyes are on her even when they're not, dressing like a trashy teenager, sporting an arm tattoo which must have been daring once, but which now looks sad and smudged on her leathery skin. The only thing we see her reading in the course of the book is a paint chart (she's redecorating her apartment), and she puts ice cubes in red wine.
The oddly compelling thing about Berneri's film is the way she builds sympathy for a woman who has few redeeming qualities, and little personality except when someone's filming her or taking her photo. Erni's real name, Encarnacion, is one of the film's many little ironies: Encarnacion doesn't seem to incarnate anything.
There's a certain tricksy resonance, too, in the casting of Silvia Perez in the main role: a former Miss Argentina, Perez was quite a well-known TV actress and sex symbol in Argentina in the 1980s; she has come out of early retirement to take on her first film role, and is brilliant in it - possibly because of parallels with her own experience.
At first we feel little more than pity and a cruel, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God fascination for Erni. But an impulse trip to her country home shifts our perceptions. An embarrassment to her 'ordinary' family, Erni connects only with her fifteen-year-old niece Ana (Martina Juncadella), who sees her as an escape from the stifling conventions of rural life. The country softens Erin, and we gradually come to admire her resilience, and understand that she is perfectly aware of how superficial others think she is.
The camera follows Erin obsessively, mirroring the viewers' own mix of revulsion and fascination for its subject.
Certain bridging scenes drag on for too long: we learn little about Erin from the way she walks along a country road for two minutes. But this is all part of Berneri's laconic, probing, see-saw approach to a character who manages to be deep and shallow at the same time. And mostly, despite some longueurs, the director's slow, patient charting of a twilight life makes for a film of surprising weight and density.
BD Cine (Arg)
Bavaria Film International (Ger)
(49) 89 64 99 26 86
Maria Dolores Espeja
Maria Eugenia Sueiro