Argentinian writer/director Diego Lerman’s feature debut, filmed in black and white, begins with a certain harshness and then melts into something definitely bittersweet. Marcia (Tatiana Saphir) is a mopey young salesgirl who works in a lingerie shop in Buenos Aires. Overweight, depressed and recently dumped by her boyfriend, she’s too emotionally inert to resist when one day she’s accosted on the street by two aggressive teenage punkettes, who call themselves — with that Third World touch of being a bit behind the curve — Mao (Carla Crespo) and Lenin (Veronica Hassan). Though they come on like hardcore nihilist lesbians, one suspects there’s more than a little role-playing going on here.
Mao keeps making obscenely graphic verbal advances to Marcia who, too dazed to make any kind of protest aside from the occasional, “Leave me alone,” soon finds herself kidnapped by the duo, though it’s more like she wanders, dazed, into their rootless world. Although she’s passive, she’s not helpless, and as the trio wanders, by taxi and by hitchhiking, farther from the city, one can sense that Marcia is less a captive than a willing traveler, drawn to the fact that this little adventure is more interesting than the dismal life she’s temporarily left behind.
Lerman’s directorial choices go a great distance in making a slight story seem nearly profound. The high contrast black-and-white photography and use of pore-enlarging close-ups add a layer of visual drama and poetry to the film. It’s a deglamorizing texture which suggests a sort of hyper-naturalism, a ratcheting-up of the kind of rawness one associates with documentaries, which gives the characters added gravitas and the landscapes a harsh beauty. Everything is somewhat more intense than it would be if it had been filmed in a different manner and the silences speak with more subtlety than dialogue ever could. This approach serves the film especially well once the trio reaches the home of Lenin’s aged aunt Blanca (Beatriz Thibaudin) and the story deepens to match the level of its presentation.
The interaction between the three teenagers and Lenin’s aunt and her two roomers — a shy student named Felipe (Marcos Ferrante), a natural victim for Mao’s mind games, and a painter named Delia (Maria Merlino) — involves shifting loyalties and emotional upheavals that pierce Marcia’s glum numbness and Lenin’s carapace of faux toughness. This is a movie that doesn’t go where you’re expecting it to, and by the end what started as a story of grubby alienation has become a tale of unifying sadness.
In Spanish with subtitles. Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Friday-Sunday, Nov. 14-16. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.