Outtakes 2011: For 80 Days, The Last Summer of La Boyita

FILM, Film Festivals
Two impressive features at this year’s Outtakes Film Festival.

Sometimes two people’s circumstances don’t quite match up. That’s the painfully acute depiction in Basque film For 80 Days (80 Eugunean), in which two women follow different life paths from when they first had a connection, only to find that their chosen paths, while seemingly preventing a chance meeting fifty years later, turn into something more worthwhile. The film also charts the difficulty of people trying to rekindle feelings from a previous life; that changed circumstances make what seemed so easy once upon a time, seem impossible later on.

Maite (Mariasun Pagoaga) is a former concert musician who’s urbane and comfortable in her sexuality. Axun (Itziar Aizpuru), on the other hand, comes from a rural family, and is married to a grouchy husband who barely communicates with her (beyond the traditional roles she performs). Her life revolves around mass, gossip, and cooking. The pair were friends as teenagers, but their divergent life-paths meant the they ended up in completely different places. While it’s a clichéd set-up, the convincing performances manage to elevate the struggle beyond its otherwise easy dichotomies.

The two women, like almost every character in the film, are terribly lonely. Canny editing, in which the characters infrequently appear in the same shot (most notably in an excellent final family scene in a car), adds to the feeling of dislocation. This heightens sympathy towards the other characters as well—Axun’s husband (even while holding her back) and her daughter similarly struggle to connect to people, and their alienation hints at a wider societal malaise.

There’s also a sense of ‘what if’ to proceedings. Both women would have grown up during Franco’s rule, which wouldn’t have been particularly conducive to their relationship. This is perhaps alluded to by Maite’s former life in Paris. Axun, meanwhile, went the traditional Catholic route (complete with guilt), and wrestles with the conflict between societal traditionalism and personal fulfilment. For a slightly pessimistic reading of the film, For 80 Days concludes that it’s too hard to escape the past, yet it isn’t without a lingering sense of hope that love can be found—or re-found—at any moment.

*  *  *

Argentinian coming-of-age drama The Last Summer of La Boyita captures the traumatic process of adolescent self-acknowledgement via the eyes of an even younger protagonist witnessing something she can’t quite explain. It’s powerful stuff: Solomonoff’s elliptical narrative and understated camerawork give plenty of space for the story to develop. She’s ably assisted by two brilliant performances by the young protagonists, who carry this coming-of-age tale impressively well.

Jorgelina (Guaduaupe Alonso) decides to spend the summer with her father in the country. She meets the farm worker Mario (Nicolás Treise), with whom she had hung out with on previous trips, but Mario seems too busy to play with her. Meantime, Mario’s getting pressure from his father to debut (and presumably) win in the annual horse race, and he’s struggling to cope with schooling and work. And that’s ignoring the physical changes taking place.

The setting is particularly important for the film’s thematic resonance. It’s set immediately after the junta, a deeply repressed and vicious period in Argentinian history, and Solomonoff carefully sets up a depiction of people (and society) in flux. There’s a lot of movement in the film, set against an impassive physical landscape. The film is set in the stunning pampas: that neverending Argentinian landscape, which seems to offer both an escape for Mario and a wall. Solomonoff’s camerawork lets the countryside act as a character, forcing the characters to play or compete against it in order to get something out of it. Its naturalistic rural setting also heightens the machismo of the people who live in it, emphasising Mario’s plight, societal constraints, and small-mindedness that he would have to deal with. The Last Summer of La Boyita casts an impressive spell, and continues to provide further proof of the exciting new Argentinian cinema.

Outtakes 2011: A Reel Queer Film Festival unspools in Auckland at Rialto Cinemas Newmarket from May 26-June 6, followed by Wellington at the Paramount Theatre from June 2-12.
‘For 80 Days’
Dir. Jon Garaño and José María Goenaga
Spain, 2010; 105 minutes
In Basque with English subtitles
‘The Last Summer of La Boyita’
Dir. Julie Solomonoff
Argentina, 2009; 86 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles