At the New Zealand International Film Festival: Love in—and for—the city of Buenos Aires.
Beginning as it does with a lengthy, pseudo-philosophical ramble likening Buenos Aires’ incoherent architectural makeup to the unsettled mental state of the famed city’s inhabitants, Gustavo Taretto’s debut feature Medianeras (the film’s title also poached from architectural jargon) presents a more starched first-impression of faux-intelligence than it actually ends up delivering. Instead, in the place of po-faced, anti-urban polemic, Taretto serves up a somewhat whimsical rom-com which, if possessed of a dry edge, is ultimately far more sweet than sour.
Like those called into question in the opening narrative, “Where’s Wally” obsessed Mariana (Pilar López de Ayala) is an architect by training—though she currently works in a solitary role as a shop window dresser. An equally solitary figure, Martìn (Javier Drolas), works and lives primarily at home as a web designer. Taretto holds this (un)likely pair up as examples of the socially enfeebling effects of modern living. We are products, the film posits, of our cubicle-like architecture and internet enabled world; stunted by imagined ailments—emotional, physical, and social—of our own construction. And yet our socially disenfranchised protagonists never cease to hope. They both long for some kind of deeper connection, and allow that longing to catalyse them to action (however minor and ill-advised, or brave and smart) which becomes the meat of the film: their parallel quests for relationship which cannot but end in the same destination.
I have heard the film (not unfavourably) compared to José Luis Guerín’s widely admired city-based drama In the City of Sylvia. (An unfortunate omission in my NZIFF 2008 schedule, which incidentally featured actress Pilar López de Ayala.) It put me in mind of Alexis Dos Santos’s 2009 feature Unmade Beds, all three films sharing central themes of connectedness both relationally and in terms of the physical setting. I gather Sylvia to be the superior, more serious effort of the three. From my less informed perspective, I would attribute more weight to Medianeras than Unmade Beds. And whilst in the (bordering on ham-fisted) narration Taretto and co. somewhat negatively represent Buenos Aires’ haphazard development, the thoughtfully composed and beautifully framed visuals—there are many shots approximating photo-stills—clearly evince an abiding love for the film’s urban environs, lending a lightness to the filmmaker’s aesthetic and sociological indictments.
For all its pop-psychological bookending, Medianeras’ strength is found in its simple narrative charm. The characters are likeable and played by actors with decent chemistry; the story is undemanding, believable, and passing smart; the film is visually compelling with a fluid style, conversely adding depth to the storytelling whilst also keeping its tread light and brisk. A sometime festival attending friend commented, “If Hollywood rom-coms played more like this film, more guys would likely be interested in seeing them,” which I think was telling. Medianeras won’t get near my NZIFF 2011 Top 10, but it is enjoyably approachable, if unchallenging, festival fare.
P.S. Those keen-eyed ones may spot the Medianeras “Where’s Wally” reference in the 2011 Festival programme cover art.