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Quick Look Back: La cienaga (2001)

by A.R. Solar

Writer-director Lucrecia Martel (Zama, 2017, Argentina) didn’t ever attempt to answer the why about anything in her auspicious feature debut, most especially not its characters’ man vs. nature conflicts. Instead, in La cienaga, she seems genuinely uninterested in explanations of any kind. Relationships among family members – when they can be identified as such – are nebulous and lack archetypal social boundaries, including sexual ones.

A true absurdist artwork that’s message is clearer through what Martel subtracted – the “why” and the relationship boundaries. The focus naturally shifts to the strange ways in which the characters interact. In this way, La Cienaga acts as a sort of anthropological survey, but mostly outside the context of the people’s motives. The settings include characters’ homes, public nightclubs, and the natural outdoors; nothing really out of the ordinary. But Martel’s perspective makes these almost clinical.

As in Jean-Luc Godard’s Week-end (1967), momentum flows from the central characters, bending and twisting through rivers and creeks of action, though not technically plot. The result is a purposely chaotic, yet sensitively observed work which boldly and incisively questions the interpersonal dynamics of the status quo.

the international CRITIQUE rating: ★★★★★

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Quick Look: What Love Looks Like

L.A.-soaked romantic comedy sees prolific director take on challenge of large ensemble cast—with a few quality laughs along the way.
by Andres Solar

The latest rom-com feature from trailblazing indie filmmaker Alex Magaña gives us more (and less) of what we’ve come to expect from the young Angelino. What Love Looks Like, available on Amazon Prime, offers a good-looking, likable ensemble cast (including the pleasant screen presence of Kate Durocher, Josh Gilmer, Margo Graff, Tay McVeigh, Calvin Peters, Tevy Poe, Connor Wilkins, and Kylee Wofford) and some big laughs in the form of clever one-liners from sometimes purposely awkward characters. Missing are the sweet, unexpected twists in the love stories like the one Magaña wrote into the third act of 29 to Life (2018).

In that year, the writer-director released a whopping three feature films (Narco Valley and Slapped! The Movie were the other two). Clearly Magaña doesn’t shy away from hard work, and it shows. The other side of that coin is that he often also shoots and cuts his own movies, and that work ethic might be too much of a good thing.

As his talents continue to expand, he might do well to recruit other hands for writing and editing, especially since his strengths appear to be in cinematography and working with actors. Thinking about What Love Looks Like’s incorporating an imaginative and touching relationship between a young man and his deceased ex-girlfriend, Magaña might even consider co-writing a future screenplay, thus gaining help with the screenwriting task while still including his proclivity for imaginative characters.

What it really comes down to in this latest from his ACM production company—and the rest of his oeuvre—is the wonderful heart the filmmaker reveals to varying degrees. Along with his apparent drive to continually challenge himself and the impressive work ethic, it is that heart which will before long turn out a work that commands international accolades.

The Film Critique rating: ★★★☆☆