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Buenos Aires Film Festival: The Third Side of the River

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Our man at BAFICI reviews a standout drama about the pains of being teenaged.

Celina Murga’s fourth feature, The Third Side of the River, further testifies to the director’s skill of capturing the idiosyncratic and simple truths of quotidian family life in small communities, in what one might call ‘middle-Argentina.’ Whether it is a depiction of the convoluted angst of adolescence and early adulthood in Ana and the Others, the fragile innocence of childhood in A Week Alone, or the irregular authority of parenthood in this, her latest work, Murga’s characters are always beautifully observed and absorbing.

The Third Side of the River concentrates, rather darkly, on the destructive properties of the family dynamic

The Third Side of the River (la tercera orilla) is a quiet film and in its linguistic bashfulness, one is immediately tempted to compare it with Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere. However, whereas in Coppola’s film the silence was light and perhaps even a little smug with own its ability to remain so handsomely reticent for so long, the silence in The Third Side of the River is heavy, ugly and disgusted with itself. This is because, unlike Somewhere, which focuses on the redeeming benefits a child-parent relationship can have, The Third Side of the River concentrates rather more darkly on the destructive properties of the family dynamic.

The film follows the life of Nicolas (Allan Devetac), a teenager whose life is being accelerated into adulthood by an implacable pressure from his father, Jorge (Daniel Veronese), who insists that ‘Nico’ leave behind his innocence and become a man; a man exactly like him. However, it soon becomes clear that Nicolas couldn’t think of anyone he would less like to be. Jorge is a laconic and stern man, who does not tolerate unbridled emotion or the repudiation of his word. Yet for all his exterior solidity, Jorge is a contradictory character who seems to perpetually straddle the border of his own morality; his immediately noticeable principles of strength, resoluteness and loyalty are often made to seem their absolute opposites of weakness, caprice and disloyalty. He lives a double life. He is not married to the mother of Nicolas, Nilda (Gaby Ferrero), who has two further children with him, but rather lives across town, with his official wife and other son.

the third side of the river

And it is at this early stage that we begin to see Murga’s skill as a storyteller and character builder flourish. She uses Jorge’s attributes of strength, resoluteness and loyalty to allow him to normalise this abnormal family dynamic to the point where one even forgets that he is doing something wrong. Throughout the film you are dazed, like the majority of the characters, into some sort of moral limbo by the confidence of a man who does bad things so well, disguised as they are with good intention.

Indeed, it seems that only Nicolas is capable of seeing the true Jorge, the man who uses his strengths to justify and protect his vices of weakness, caprice and disloyalty. He doesn’t understand how a man like this can be so respected by the community. And it is in this incomprehension and incredulity that a hate for his father begins to develop. The more Jorge tries to build Nicolas in his own image and tries to become chummy with him, the more the hypocrisies and dichotomies in Jorge’s character become obvious to Nicolas. The closer Jorge gets, the further away he drives any notion of love between the two.

The Third Side of the River is a film utterly constipated, tumescent with its own introversion. What is unsaid is bursting to be said

Yet as precocious as Nicolas may be, his passions are bound up tightly into reticence, and so as close as we get to an articulation of his hate is a series of furtive stares, brazen broodings and eye-bulging rages. Indeed, like his father, he too straddles an internal border, that between adolescence and adulthood. Nicolas’s residual need for authority and unwillingness to become a man keeps him in a confused state of indecision and painful incoherence, until at one point it breaks. This is a film utterly constipated, or if you prefer a more adolescent-ready adjective, tumescent with its own introversion. What is unsaid is bursting to be said, where words seemed to be squeezing themselves from behind the constantly engorged eyes of Nicolas, or forming coherent sentences in the throbbing veins on Jorge’s forehead.

It is a film in which the camera seems to be eavesdropping, clandestine and offering of the privilege of being able to see what really goes on in the lives of some families. Of course, some might find the film too slow, lacking in action or plot-accelerating dialogue. Yet, as the film’s purpose is to convey reality, or as close to it as simulation can get, then those viewers coming to the cinema to escape the quotidian drear of their lives might find this film a little boring, or even depressing. However, if you are the patient type and enjoy the quiet unfolding of character, or would appreciate a brilliant articulation of the complete inarticulacy of adolescence, then the Third Side of the River deserves watching.

 

More festival coverage: Berlinale 2014 round-up

 

All images: Distribution Company

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