Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 04, 2009 7:42 am 
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Class and child neglect

This Argentinian director's second film is an ensemble piece about privilege and irresponsibility that focuses almost exclusively on children and adolescents. It can seem at times excruciatingly long because there is so little emphasis on plot, but at the same time Uns semana solos is remarkable in its gradual almost real-time accumulation of mood. The result is that when something finally happens toward the end of the 110 minutes, there is a sense of shock, even though consequences are muted. Murga's achieves a feel of seemingly complete naturalism in the use of the young people. It's a demonstration of the potential power of working slowly and methodically in a low key.

These kids live in a gated community with its own church and school, somewhere not terribly far from Buenos Aires, which few of them have ever visited and which they refer to only as "el Capital." The focus is on one household but there are several families whose offspring play and hang out together all day. Their wealthy parents are away on vacation, leaving them to fend for and amuse themselves, with only a live-in housekeeper, Esther (Natalia Gomez Alarcon). Most of them bus to the same private school, which is still in session, the ostensible reason why they've been left behind. The place is patrolled by what they call "copy cops," who have little power--except to exclude the uninvited, or the non-rich.

Maria (Magdalena Copabianco) is the most mature, and seems the most in charge. Also having some seeming power is the sporty Facundo (Lucas Del Bo). But really no one is in charge, and it's a wonder nothing worse happens.

Murga's strategy is to take us into this world without explanation and to let the young actors be natural, eating snacks, watching TV, playing video games. What happens in school is omitted from the film except to show them leaving it and riding the bus and walking home in their uniforms. There is a certain imbalance here: doesn't anything of interest happen at school? In some ways the filmmakers (Murga and her co-author and producer husband, Juan Villegas) seem as oblivious as their young subjects. But in general their empathy pays off in the seamless sense of mood and milieu.

The portrait of a privileged class might lack dimension without people who don't belong to set it off, and these come through the presence of Esther, and even more, in the surprise arrival of her younger brother, Juan (Ignacio Gimenez), whom the kids' parents have agreed to have come for a stay from his home in the unfashionable region of Entre Rios, a hinterland quite unknown to the kids. It's vacation time at Juan's public school. When he arrives, he must cool his heels for a long time at the gate while repeated phone calls are required to assure that he is allowed in. When he finally gets the go-ahead, he's photographed, like a criminal.

The film is subtle in showing how Juan is excluded from the group. Wisely, the filmmakers have chosen a boy who isn't crude or pinched or poor-looking, but very presentable, tall, sportily dressed, even handsome. But of course that isn't enough to cut through the wall of privilege, and he just isn't welcomed very much. In a way he could just be the "new boy." One kid complains to his mother on the phone that she should have consulted with them before allowing Juan to come, and he wants him sent away. But eventually that is forgotten and little by little Juan blends in, some of the kids talk to him, and he loosens up. But when he's taken to the sports club pool, the boys torment him with warnings that he won't be allowed back if he violates any rules.

Violating rules is something that they all do, however. Right at the beginning the kids wander into other people's houses in the neighborhood to explore them, poke around in drawers and closets, turn TVs and stereos on and off--and there is worse later. The concluding sequences, which follow a party where some of the boys get drunk, are a disturbing, the more so because they and everything leading up to them have been so muted. Perhaps Murga didn't know how to edit this film (it seems in need of some cutting), but the sense of flow and gradual progression are admirable.

Released in Argentina February 19, 2009. Shown as part of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center, New York, in March 2009.

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