Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Daughter (La Hija)


THE DAUGHTER (La Hija)                         D                     60
Argentina  (90 mi)  2016  ‘Scope  d:  Louis Sampieri

One of the films at a film festival that you’re not likely to see anywhere else.  Without a distributor in the foreseeable future, perhaps it may only become available online, but not in a theatrical release.  Why, you might ask?  Because it’s really not a very good film, and despite its intentional ambiguities, is all too obvious, lacking any degree of artistic subtlety, becoming overly predictable throughout.  Borrowing heavily from Lucrecia Martel’s LA CIENAGA (2001), it’s basically the same film, told in a less effective manner.  Both are based on memories of their own family, as the director, who was present at the screening, indicated he lives in a small town in the mountains, preferring a humble lifestyle, surrounded by other like-minded, hardworking people, many of whom are indigenous, claiming it’s difficult to make a living off the land.  The film attempts to be a scathing class examination, largely seen through the eyes of a once wealthy family whose family fortune is in decline, yet they still see themselves as aristocrats, as if they still deserve special recognition and prestige over their neighbors, who they haughtily call “new wealth,” a distinction that only those with inherited wealth seem to make, as if that makes them more noble.  The opening sequences are a wordless ballet of emptiness, as two cars are heading for the family estate in the mountains, with close-ups on each of the individuals, but no one utters a word.  After an extended period of time, the only thing they can talk about is trashing their neighbors, using expletives to describe them, finding a particularly grotesque way to describe them.  Once they arrive, the food and drinks are unloaded from the cars and the family festivities begin. 

The bored youngest daughter is disappointed that they all don’t make a mad dash to the beach, which is what she would want to do.  Instead she plays with goggles in the bath, dripping water on her head, or bounces a ball endlessly around the house to everyone’s aggravation.  As food is being prepared by Dominga (Maria Laura Carhuavilca), their indigenous domestic help, she stops what she’s doing, looking startled and a bit terrified, and delivers a baby right there on the kitchen floor.  If this family had negative words for their neighbors, imagine what comes out of their mouths for this event, where every word is one of denunciation and bitter judgment.  Only the elderly patriarch Don Arcadio (Harry Havilio) offers a few gentle words of encouragement, while passing her a few bucks for the troubles that lie ahead.  Everyone seems to think it was an abominable sin not to alert the family to the pregnancy ahead of time, while it’s clear they work her like a slave, where they never offer her a chance to have a personal life, as they order her around as if they “own” her.  When the newborn cries at birth, the bored younger daughter’s reaction is to declare, “What a bitch!”  While it’s clear all this family thinks about is themselves, after the birth, they seem to turn on each other as well, as vicious insults become commonplace.  What upsets them the most seems to be their dwindling reputation, as this excursion into the mountains was meant to be a farewell to their vacation home and a vanishing way of life. 

Jorge (Santiago Paz Posse) distinguishes himself by bringing his golf clubs, using the mountain slopes for his own personal driving range, probably whacking his drives onto his neighbor’s property as a goodbye gesture, kind of like giving them the middle finger.  When Jorge announces he’s put the property up for sale, Don Arcadio wants to know why this is the first he’s heard of that, wondering if he missed the family discussion.  Actually, there was no family discussion, as Jorge decided he and he alone knows what’s best for this family, followed by personal insults aimed at his siblings.  The established tone from the beginning is one of unending arrogance and prejudice, where no one even asks about the baby, or wonders who the father is, as it’s likely one of them.  What Dominga ultimately decides to do is a horrific act that has its roots in slavery times, as mothers didn’t want to bring children into the world to suffer the consequences of slavery.  The collective nation as a whole is guilty of raping the land and the women of the indigenous population in Argentina, which significantly remains the only South American national soccer team without a single black player on the roster (Why Are There No Black Men on Argentina's Roster? | Rachel Décoste).  With this in mind, their behavior is atrocious, flaunting their status as if it actually means something, but their bitter vitriol and hateful view of others is worthy of contempt.  In one of the final scenes that plays over the end credits, the family’s memorial visit to their grave sites is interrupted by a stream of blind individuals in dark glasses tapping their canes in front of this family as they walk past, suggesting it is the blind leading the blind, perhaps a tribute to Bernardo Bertolucci’s more eloquent use of similar imagery nearly 50 years ago in The Conformist (Il Conformista) (1970). 

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