Dir/scr: Juan Solanas.Fr-Sp-Bel-Arg. 2005. 104mins.
A woman's selfish questto adopt a baby becomes an eye-opening journey into the heart of Argentina in Northeast,a first feature from director Juan Solanas that contrasts the beauty of thecountry with the ugliness of what happens there.
The personal story is thekey to a political statement as Solanas reveals the poverty, corruption anddisregard for human life that have come to define the country's soul. Thisslow-moving drama avoids sentimentality but isn't entirely effective in unitingits different narrative strands.
The subject matter, thesincerity of the approach and the presence of Carole Bouquet should all combineto ensure extensive Festival exposure and possibly some arthouse sales afterits Cannes launch in Un Certain Regard and immediate French release on May 13.
The son of Fernando Solanas,Juan was a Cannes prize-winner for his short film The Man Without A Head(2001). Born in Argentina but raised in France, he now returns with anoutsider's eye to convey a documentary-like sense of his native country.
The opening images underlinethe basic struggle for survival. We see a cow slaughtered and watch as dogs anda pig lick at the torrent of its blood that flows across the earth. This islife in the raw and we had better get used to it. He then cuts to a scene ofbusinesswoman Helene (Bouquet) in the security and surroundings of a Frenchboardroom. The contrast between the life she has known and the one shediscovers in Argentina provides the narrative backbone of the film.
Desperate to adopt a babyshe heads to Buenos Aires. Six months of negotiations have finally produced aresult. She naively believes that she can merely fly in, pick up the child andfly back home. It is a task approached with all the sensitivity of ordering anitem from a catalogue.
Told that a newborn baby isnot available, she ventures into one of Argentina's most remote and poorestareas hoping for better luck. The area she chooses is Northeast where Juana(Rovera) is running out of options. She is pregnant, facing eviction from herhome and unsure how much longer she will be able to support her 13-year-old sonMartin (Jiminez).
When Helene befriends Martinit is the beginning of her education and better understanding of a countrywhere child trafficking and prostitution flourish and only the strong survive.
Helene, Juana and Martin areall interesting enough characters that they could each sustain a film. We watchJuana's increasingly desperate life, Martin's first lapses into a world ofcrime and delinquency and Helene finally connecting to the reality of what ishappening all around her. By splitting the focus of Northeast betweenthem, Solanas somehow diminishes its impact rather than strengthening itsresonance.
Images of smoke belchingfactories, slum streets, exotic wildlife (including a friendly yacarecrocodile) and landscapes combine with a judicious use of traditionalindigenous music to bring a rich sense of the unknown Argentina to the screen.In this respect the film may offer as much of an education for its audience asit does for Helene.
France 2 Cinema
Ignacio Ramon Jimenez