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The Berlinale Blog: Late, from Latin America

Two Competition films from Argentine Celina Murga and Peruvian Claudia Llosa mix up the Bears with strong performances and distinctive content. Eve Lucas likes.

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Aloft

Before we start divvying up the spoils it’s worth remembering that Murga’s The Third Side of the River (La Tercera Orilla) comes with the approval stamp of Martin Scorsese who was so impressed by Llosa’s first film Ana y los Otros that he produced her second film Una Semana Solos and executive produced this Competition entry.

And The Third Side of the River starts with a ring of confidence as four children sit in a driveway in a small city in rural Argentina, playing a game. The eldest is Nicolas, who keeps a friendly eye on his adolescent sister and two younger brothers. His parents enjoy an amorous interlude in the bedroom. Then his father comes out, picks up the third child, and drives off. Shortly afterwards, we see Nicolas comforting his tearful mother. Playtime is over.

It’s not much in the way of exposé but a lot has been said. This is a family divided: just how it’s divided is a matter for us to deduce from looks, hints, gestures that lead us into a deeply patriarchal society. Nicolas’ father Jorge has two families and although Nicolas belongs to the unacknowledged branch with the unglamorous mother, he’s been designated successor both at Jorge’s place of work and at the family ranch. Yet Jorge is not a tyrant and Nicolas is not a pushover. Alián Devetac plays him as a boy who’s learned to perform for his father, dissimulating fear and hatred yet showing genuine responsibility and affection where he can. Turning this process into a screen performance relies upon a minimalist script that draws the viewer into family life by using domestic interiors and close ups to contextualize expression and gesture. Occasional drifts into ellipsis make this a sometime strenuous exercise. But if you can keep your eye on the bigger picture, you’ll be amply rewarded.

Claudia Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow (La Teta Asustada) won the Golden Bear in 2009. She returns with her first English language feature Aloft, set in Canada where wide, wintery landscapes frame the equally endless themes of love, faith and forgiveness. The beatific Jennifer Connelly plays Nana Kunning, a mother desperate to find any cure for a terminally sick younger child before she finds that she herself may be a healer and decides, following a family tragedy, to answer that calling. It’s a long shot in credibility terms. Aided by Cillian Murphy as her embittered adult older son Jack and a metaphorical use of nature and landscape that is surely also indebted to Malick, Llosa nearly pulls it off for as long as she shows faith and trust as simply existing, beyond justification. She stumbles, however, towards the end when explanations become necessary after all. Might there be a Silver Bear lurking in those woods? If so, it’ll likely set its sights on Connelly.

La Tercera Orilla screens Feb 13, 13:00 (Zoo Palast 1), 15:00 (Friedrichstadt-Palast), 22:30 (International), Feb 16, 17:30 (Zoo Palast 2)

Aloft screens Feb 13, 12:00 (Friedrichstadt-Palast), 19:00 (Haus der Berliner Festspiele), 21:00 (Friedrichstadt-Palast) and Feb 16, 12.15 (HdBF)