La Cienaga (Martel, 2001)

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Through the relentless use of constricting ambient sounds, Lucrecia Martel creates a smothering atmosphere in the opening sequence of La Cienaga (The Swamp), beginning a long and winding road toward a particularly devastating sudden death. But Martel’s emphasis obviously lies in the process of suffocation, symbolized by a dead cow stuck in an ocean of mud, a stagnant pool cloudy with dirt and grime, and the countless interior shots of people lounging, sweating, and sleeping away time. La Cienaga charts the long summer days of one wealthy Argentine family anchored in quicksand by an alcoholic matriarch and an almost inconsequential male presence. Martel offsets this brood with a working class parallel, a family who comes from the city to spend time at their friend’s countryside villa, one flanked by endless foliage-topped mountains and swamps. La Cienaga visualizes some damning social critiques, the centerpiece being an obvious tension between the lighter skinned upper class the the darker toned “Indians” on the fringes of every scene. These conflicts often break out suddenly, leaving the viewer to piece together the altercations during the submerged moments of solace after the fact. Even though her style seems at first heavy-handed, Martel is an obvious talent, someone eagerly committed to challenging the realms of cinematic sound and space and their direct relationship to character.

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