With a plot recalling the fevered fictions of Jim Thompson, late Polanski, and Isabel Allende, The Fish Child banks on the sizzle of its pair of young female stars and their enactment of class and erotic tensions to flavor its Sapphic noir melodrama. Blond and saucer-eyed teen Lala (Ines Efron), a daughter of Buenos Aires privilege, trysts and dreams with her raven-haired Paraguayan maid Ailin (Mariela Vitale), who is conveniently just 20, and inconveniently having a backstairs affair with Lala’s dad (Pep Munne), a creepy, sybaritic judge. Flashing backward from Lala’s bus journey to her lover’s village after Dad turns up dead, the film’s opening third is writer-director Lucia Puenzo’s most accomplished and surprising stretch, stitching an impressionistic weave of past passions and present dread, along with establishing the party-filled, pop-fueled demimonde of upper-class Argentines. Puenzo, adapting her own novel, augments the melodrama with focused, tightly-framed observations of her anti-heroines, who steal paintings and jewelry from Lala’s family to fund their goal of settling down in a lake house near the rural home of “la Guavi” (as the aristocrats call their domestic). Sensuous Vitale lounges on a bed, face to the camera, and the mattress shakes for awhile before we see her employer mounting her from behind; Efron, hitting strong, introverted counter-notes, chops her hair off in a dazed bathtub scene, a tableau of abandonment and possible madness. Puenzo’s cool, grainy gaze and Efron’s desperate gamine keep Fish Child from floating into risibility until one of the girls lands in prison for the other’s crime, and the ensuing gunplay and lurid paternal horrorscape make for a wheezing finish. Puenzo earns cred for the bold stroke of having the mythological aquatic boy of the title swim into Lala’s consciousness midway, but the kid’s ultimate significance is the stuff of telenovela formula.
The Fish Child @ the Tribeca Film Festival