Wednesday, May 25, 2011
PUZZLE are hands kneading dough. Bread is being made for a big family gathering, turkey roasted and appetizers prepared. The woman at the center of all this, María del Carmen, we slowly discover, has been placed in an extremely put-upon position -- by her husband, children, other relatives and probably even her friends (though we see less of them; this movie is all about family -- and family-liberation). That initial scene -- the preparation and then the meal -- is so skillfully written and directed by Natalia Smirnoff that reams of information are handed to us with literally no exposition. It's all "show" and no "tell" -- and yet we learn one hell of a lot about the family dynamics, and particularly about the character of María del Carmen.
María Onetto, shown below and last seen here as the star of Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman. This is a performance -- were international films seen more widely internation-ally (particularly here in the USA) -- that would win every award in the book. As would the film itself, if the time ever comes when subtlety and gradation are prized above pomposity and overkill. Ms Smirnoff, shown at left, who has worked for more than a decade as a second-unit or assistant director and as a casting director, has clearly learned her lessons and so gets almost everything right in this, her first film.
Queen to Play, this film will ring all kinds of similar bells, content-wise. Both films are about a woman who discovers a gift and an intellectual pursuit/passion that changes her, and by extension those closest to her. Both films are decidedly feminist but neither are in the least anti-male. Yet the films are also very different. As Argentinian as Queen is French (or maybe as Hispanic as the other film is European), in Puzzle, everything from the climate to the location, the fashion to the decor, and the game involved -- chess vs puzzles -- is quite different. You would never mistake one movie for the other nor will you have any trouble, years down the road, remembering each quite fondly.
Gabriel Goity is masterful as her confused, macho but loving husband, and in the role of mentor is one of Argentina's finest actors Arturo Goetz (above, right), who brings such effortless intelligence and class to his role that this adds immeasurably to the quiet emotional suspense that the movie builds.
Sundance Selects, 88 minutes, un-rated and in Spanish with English subtitles -- opens Friday, May 27, in New York at the IFC Center and will be available via VOD, beginning today, May 25.