Dir: Enrique Rivero. Mexico. 2008. 84mins.I
Intentionally slow and repetitive, this is art fare per excellence, the kind of film juries fall in love with (so no surprise it won top prize at Locarno), art houses embrace and film critics applaud. Painstakingly following the routine of a caretaker in charge of a luxurious villa, this is a study of the relations between masters and servants which like Carlos Reygadas’ Battle In Heaven, culminates in an act of extreme violence, a sign of how misleading the apparent harmony between social classes can be. Using non-professionals chosen for their facial expressions rather than their acting skill in the lead roles, this isan uncompromisingpiece of minimalist film-making in need of careful handling, but a worthy winner of the Golden Leopard.
Beto (Coria), a dark, small, neatly groomed man, has been working for the same family for over 30 years, spending the past ten taking care of their large villa which they hardly ever visit. Punctiliously undertaking all the chores required to keep the property in tip-top shape, Beto is like a willing prisoner in a gilded cage, enjoying the safe security it provides and enduring the solitude it brings. Like so many other faithful cogs in the system, he’d rather not take the chance. He sleeps in his small room upstairs, gets up every morning at the same time, cleans the floors, tends to the garden, washes the windows, cooks his food, irons his shirts and watches the reports on the horrors going in the outside world on television, his solitude only broken by occasional visits from prostitute Lupe (Orozco).
Every so often the Lady of the House (Huerta), a white haired, elegant older woman, is driven in by her chauffeur to check the state of the house which has been put up for sale, and an estate agent brings potential customers to look the place over. Beto observes them from the upstairs window and is relieved to see them go. Until one day the house is sold, and the Lady has to tell Beto that his services are no longer required. Regretful, she even tries to find him a similar position although his age and physical condition makes this difficult. After serving the family a last dinner, Beto collects his meagre belongings and gets ready to go, something he is evidently not ready to do.
With practically no dialogue to speak of, relying only on the exquisite camera work of Arnau Valls Colomer, Rivero establishes early on clear rules for the game. Inside the house, where most of the film takes place, he uses classical angles, precisely-measured framing and minimal camera movements, the relations between the space and the character always a prime concern. On the rare occasions the action moves into Mexico City, the blandly cool palette of the interior are replaced by a myriad of wildly furious bursts of vivid, threatening, unsettling colours, the handheld camera underlining this effect.
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Arnau Valls Colomer
Javier Ruiz Caldera