An Argentinean clan travels to Brazil in the 1990s for a family vacation in the latest feature from actress-turned-director Ana Katz (‘A Stray Girlfriend’).
An Argentinean couple and their near-adult children go on vacation together to the titular Brazilian beach resort in Sueno Florianopolis, from Argentinean actress-turned-director Ana Katz. This feature harks back to Katz’s most famous work as a director, A Stray Girlfriend, which premiered in the 2009 Cannes Un Certain Regard lineup and which similarly followed the minor mishaps and pedestrian adventures of someone on holiday while processing personal things. The female protagonist here, however, is now older if not necessarily wiser — and she’s brought her husband, from whom she’s sort of separated, and their kids.
The result is Katz’s strongest film to date, a recognizable feast of pedestrian realism — a term meant in the most complimentary way — that suggests that happiness should be appreciated in the small things of everyday life while you battle your way through bigger things. The Argentinean-Brazilian co-production, set in the pre-cell phone 1990s, had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and should have a sunny future on the festival circuit, though more than niche theatrical bookings might be a harder-to-realize dream.
After her directorial debut, the broad comedy Musical Chairs from 2002, Katz the director has dedicated herself to a more realistic vein of filmmaking that has highlighted intentionally ordinary women and their unfortunately still too rarely seen daily experiences. Katz’ cinema is practically devoid of major drama or intense moments of pure happiness. Like in real life, most of the time the characters float in a relatively comfortable position somewhere between these two extremes. To what extent cinema has conditioned the viewer to expect a showcase of mainly these extremes, however, is illustrated by a late scene in Florianopolis during which middle-aged psychoanalyst Lucrecia (Mercedes Moran) goes kayaking on the sea, alone. The sky is overcast and leaden, Lucrecia doesn’t know how to swim and she has come to the realization that her life isn’t as stable or rosy as she no-doubt kept telling herself that it was.
(Minor spoiler in this paragraph only.) While she paddles around and the coast disappears from view, as a viewer you can’t but expect the worst to happen; sharks, bad weather, a freak wave or a bad body movement that would make her go under. But neither Lucrecia nor the film do. Instead, Katz simply takes her time to observe Lucrecia engaged in doing something for herself and on her own — and it is practically the only time during her busy holidays she takes the time to do that. Her only triumph is the fact that she managed to carve out a little time for herself. Her only tragedy is that is she’ll have to go back to her usual role of mother, partner and family organizer soon.
The film’s meandering narrative and loose-limbed holiday rhythms become much easier to navigate with the knowledge that the entire work is composed of an infinite concatenation of similar micro-triumphs and micro-tragedies. Lucrecia’s relationship with her husband, Pedro (Gustavo Garzon), who is also a therapist, is complex because they are in the midst of a trial separation that has been suspended because of their desire to take their kids on a joint holiday one last time. Julian (Joaquin Garzon, Gustavo’s actual son) and Flor (Manuela Martinez) are in their late teens and while they’ve tagged along on the trip — which is over a 1,000 miles by car from Buenos Aires to Florianopolis — they both have a habit of doing their own thing, leaving Lucrecia and Pedro to strike up a friendship with Marco (Marco Ricca), the owner of the house they are renting, and his former partner Larissa (Andrea Beltrao), with whom he has raised a teenage son, Cesar (Caio Horowiz).
The two modern families get along rather well, with Flor falling for Cesar and Lucrecia courted by Marco, finally leaving Larissa and Pedro in a situation where it would be logical for them to seek out each other’s company. The beauty of the screenplay, written by Katz with her brother, Daniel Katz, is that it resists the temptation to turn the material into a genre film, be it a sex comedy, erotic drama or a story of marital upheaval and betrayal. Instead, Katz simply observes the characters and their reactions to the new and clearly temporary relationships in a more realistic manner, which might be less spectacular but is also more lifelike.
The attention to seemingly throwaway detail can be very telling however. When Marco has guided Lucrecia to a place where they can sleep together, the mattress is covered with all sorts of objects that have clearly been there for a long time, suggesting he’s not just some local Don Juan who always has a love nest at the ready. Similarly, the next morning, he’s seen dying his hair while he waits for Lucrecia to wake up, suggesting something about his desire to look good and the fact he feels completely comfortable doing so in front of the woman he just slept with.
The underlying message seems to be that small moments of happiness need to be enjoyed whenever they present themselves, like when a cake for Lucrecia’s birthday — really a piece of watermelon with regular candles stuck in the piece of fruit — is improvised for her at a house party at which she hardly knows anybody. With the kids now almost independent and her husband practically out of the picture, it becomes clear for Lucrecia needs to start thinking more about herself again.
Gustavo Biazzi’s fluid and unfussy cinematography makes a point of always showing the surroundings in relationship to the characters, so the film never becomes a tourism advert for Brazilian beaches and instead stays focused on the people and their relationships. The sense of realism is further augmented by the absence of any kind of score and the choice to have most of the dialogue in a mix of Brazilian Portuguese and Argentinean Spanish, to mirror the way in which characters from both countries trying to talk to each other without really speaking each other’s languages would.
The entire cast is solid from top to bottom, with Moran, Garzon and Ricca having the biggest roles. A supposedly romantic tete-a-tete dinner between Moran and Garzon’s characters is especially memorable for the way harsh truths and their reactions to them reveal a lot about both characters’ inner workings without ever becoming melodramatic, much like the film itself.
Production companies: Campo Cine, Prodigo Films, Groch Filmes, Laura Cine, Bellota Films
Cast: Mercedes Moran, Gustavo Garzon, Marco Ricca, Andrea Beltrao, Manuela Martinez, Joaquin Garzon, Caio Horowicz
Director: Ana Katz
Screenplay: Ana Katz, Daniel Katz
Producers: Nicolas Avruj, Beto Gauss, Camila Groch, Diego Lerman, Ana Katz, Francesco Civita
Director of photography: Gustavo Biazzi
Production designer: Gonzalo Delgado
Costume designers: Sandra Fink, Diogo Costa
Editor: Andres Tambornino
Sales: Film Factory
Venue: Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Competition)
In Spanish, Portuguese
No rating, 103 minutes