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Review: La Ciénaga

Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga is a stunning affront to bourgeois complacency.

La Ciénaga
Photo: Cowboy Pictures

Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga is a stunning affront to bourgeois complacency. Mecha (Graciela Borges) and her inebriated friends hang out by the filthy family pool when the woman slips, falls, and cuts her bosom on broken glass. Then, a splash of color—bright red peppers to evoke a family business about to bleed dry. Mecha is perpetually rabid, verbally abusing her servants while insincerely promising a friend that they’ll soon take a trip to hostile Bolivia. A more literal ciénaga is to be found in the distance, where Mecha’s boys aim guns at a cow sinking into a muddy swamp. Not unlike their mother, they are seemingly conscious of the country’s hierarchical class order when they shoo dark-skinned, native boys away from ravenous dogs. The boys warn: “Don’t pat them, it tames them.” Mecha’s daughter prays to God, thanking him for delivering their servant Isabel (Andrea Lopez) to the house. There is a hint of homoerotic lust in the air as the film’s band of youth frolic around the swamp, though the beautiful Isabel only has eyes for a machete-wielding soccer player. Martel directs these moments with genuine terror as knives threaten to fly from the hands of these children and into the torsos of their playmates. Mecha’s eldest, Jose (Juan Cruz Bordeu), spurns his maternal older lover in order to negotiate the family baggage. Incestuous females worship him with just cause: he’s survived youth but is yet to give way to adult fear. Martel is intoxicated by her country’s stringent provincialism: Boys and girls with scars and scratches on their faces live in constant fear of mythical African rats and the neighbor’s unseen dogs. Mecha dreams of Bolivia but fails to rise from her bed—for her, it’s easier to just stand still. A life is shattered so abruptly you might gasp—not because of the horror of the crash but because no one was there to listen. A deceptively simple tale, La Ciénaga is an evocation of willingly allowing oneself (and one’s country) to go to seed.

Cast: Mercedes Morán, Graciela Borges, Martín Adjemián, Leonora Balcarce, Silvia Baylé, Juan Cruz Bordeu, Noelia Bravo Herrera, Maria Micol Ellero, Andrea López, Sebastián Montagna, Daniel Valenzuela, Franco Veneranda Director: Lucrecia Martel Screenwriter: Lucrecia Martel Distributor: Cowboy Pictures Running Time: 103 min Rating: R Year: 2001 Buy: Video

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