la cienaga(2000)
director: lucrecia martel
graciela borges, mercedes moran, sofia bertolotto

. Lucrecia Martel’s movie about two families suffering through the agony of late summer in rural Argentina is basically a tragedy, but the villain is ultimately the weather, which spends the whole film threatening some awful catastrophe.

Mecha (Graciela Borges) is a bitter drunk who lives with her four children on a run-down estate in the country. Her cousin Tali (Mercedes Moran) lives in the city with her four children, and escapes the summer heat with visits to her cousin. In the country, Mecha’s kids live like indolent savages, ranging through the woods with guns, seething with sexual tension, scarred from frequent accidents and relying on the local Indians while sullenly condescending to them. 

It’s hard to imagine how Mecha’s place offers much of an escape. The city where Tali lives is called La Cienaga -- “The Swamp” -- but the name is better applied to the country house, with its stagnant gray pool and the adults who lurch around it like zombies. Frighteningly, the director has stated that the film is based on her own family.

Like some quietly forboding short story, nothing much really happens. The awful tension is built up with little details and stunning imagery: while the girls float around the still waters of a dammed river in huge inner tubes, a group of native boys surround them, poised over the water with machetes, trying to catch fish in the muddy water. You wait for the inevitable, awful cataclysm to happen, but when it does, it occurs quietly, and in Tali’s tidy city home, not her cousin’s decayed retreat. It feels, ultimately, as sad and sudden as life.