Dir: Dominga Sotomayor, Chile-Argentina. 2014. 60mins
Take a seaside holiday in Argentina. Add a car that might die at any time, a possessive mother who drinks, and a thunderstorm. Mar is a study in randomness and spontaneity, at a minimal budget. The very title of Mar is a play on the feature’s shortness. Or is this a long short film?
Mar is short for Martin. It is also the Spanish word for the sea. The word play there reflects one of Sotomayor’s goals, to observe the interplay between people and places.
Mar, all of 60 minutes, is the second feature by the Chilean filmmaker Dominga Sotomayor, whose previous Thursday Til Sunday won the Tiger Award at Rotterdam in 2012. The experimental film will play on the festival circuit and in art museums, where her videos and shorter work have shown. This meandering narrative will be a tough one for the general audience, but the story that seems to unfold effortlessly teaches a few lessons about making fiction and making cinema.
Here Sotomayor lends an auteurist voice to an ensemble creation. Martin (Lisandro Rodriguez) and his girlfriend (Vanina Montes) are headed to the sea in Argentina for a holiday. They bicker, and their unreliable car, borrowed from his parents, echoes the fragility of their relationship. They settle in, but soon Martin’s mother (Andrea Strenitz) arrives, overshadowing everything and everyone else until a thunderstorm takes several lives on the beach.
Sotomayor’s script, which took shape after her skeleton cast and crew arrived at Vila Gesell, Argentina, breathes with the rhythms of the weather, slowing down the action (if we can all it that) to a pace that makes the length seem longer than its 60 minutes.
The tale of a couple spending a few days together shifts between the scripted events and natural occurrences. Can a scripted film be fiction, when so many outside elements beyond the filmmaker’s control enter the story? The mother’s presence, a crucial plot point, becomes a driving force, until a natural disaster changes everything.
Mar is short for Martin. It is also the Spanish word for the sea. The word play there reflects one of Sotomayor’s goals, to observe the interplay between people and places. Her fiction begins with the most ordinary of activities, and then the two competing women in the same room vie for the attention of the young man, yet there’s no dramatic crescendo and the relationships don’t change, even as Martin’s mother steals the show, simply by talking all the time. Contrary to any rules about realism in cinema, realism here depends on who or what is around.
Visually, this means that we see a series of random elements enter the frame, as they do in photographs from the 1930s to the 1950s which photographers deliberately left un-cropped so no central event would dominate the frame. Try as anyone might to exclude marginal elements, they keep appearing. Dogs that happen to be nearby follow Martin and his girlfriend around, with no particular purpose. Thieves rob the cars where they are staying. Is this randomness, or is it the reality that creeps into a scripted film that aspires to be real. Is the film delicately edited, as it appears to be, or is Sotomayor’s team simply dealing with the ingredients at hand, as her characters do when they prepare impromptu holiday meals.
Argentina is the homeland of Jorge Luis Borges, the author who spent his life probing the nature of fiction. Sotomayor, making her own film with her own team, is also walking in his footsteps.
Production companies, backers: Cinestacion, Frutacine
International sales: New Europe Film Sales, email@example.com
Producers: Dominga Sotomayor, Iván Eibuszyc, Lisandro Rodriguez
Screenplay: Lisandro Rodriguez, Vanina Montes, Dominga Sotomayor, Manuela Martelli
Cinematography: Nicolas Ibieta
Editor: Catalina Marin
Production designer: Limari Ascui
Main cast: Lisandro Rodriguez, Vanina Montes, Andrea Strenitz