Sold-out shows, a long-lost film featuring Juan Domingo Perón, and a presidential candidate in the homestretch of his campaign. These were just a few of the highlights from this year’s Mar del Plata International Film Festival, which closed on Saturday night.
Despite the presence of Union por la Patria’s (UxP’s) Sergio Massa — and the threats of his opponent, Javier Milei, to defund the National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA, by its Spanish acronym) — the event managed to maintain its mystique even as the ongoing economic crisis limited the number of offerings, theaters, and high-profile guests.
The 38th annual festival featured a wide range of films, from the small, intimate works of local directors to Netflix productions and more. Here are three Argentine features worth checking out.
Elena Knows – Anahi Berneri
The festival kicked off with the international premiere of Anahi Berneri’s Elena Knows, an adaption of the Claudia Piñeiro novel and one of Netflix’s two entries in the competition. The other — No voy a pedirle a nadie que me crea (I’m not going to ask anyone to believe me) — is the third feature of Mexico’s Fernando Frías de la Parra.
Starring Mercedes Morán in a tour-de-force performance, Elena Knows follows a 65-year-old woman with Parkinson’s trying to understand the cause of death of her only daughter, Rita (a brilliant Erica Rivas and Rivas’ real-life daughter, Miranda de la Serna).
The story unfolds like a conventional thriller, replete with expository flashbacks, but Berneri’s confident direction and rich style dramatically elevate the material. Elena Knows is more than a whodunnit; it’s a psychological dissection of a mother-daughter relationship that has gone south.
In Berneri’s sixth film, Morán’s resentful and asocial anti-hero plumbs the darker side of motherhood. Although Elena Knows can feel like an algorithmic genre exercise at times, the film’s impeccable costume and art design, along with its subtly atmospheric score by Jackson Souvenirs, help cement it as a distinctly auteurist piece of filmmaking.
Elena Knows will open in theaters in Argentina on November 16 and will be available on Netflix a week later.
The Practice – Martín Rejtman
Among the festival’s most-anticipated films was New Argentine Cinema pioneer Martín Rejtman’s The Practice, which had a single screening at Mar del Plata’s Auditorium Theater. The feature, Rejtman’s funniest to date, frequently had the packed crowd laughing out loud — no small feat for a director whose sardonic sense of humor doesn’t usually lend itself to chuckles. where audiences burst with laughs in what is probably the funniest film by a director whose tailor-made dry, demanding humor hasn’t been the easiest to connect with.
Shot in Chile with an Argentine lead and a solid cast of local actors, The Practice can almost be described as a romantic comedy, with some of Rejtman’s trademarks: constant repetition, snappy dialogue, and quirky characters. But The Practice is much lighter than the director’s usual fare. Here, Rejtman applies his unique style of storytelling to all manner of mishaps, from street falls to earthquakes.
A pitch-perfect Esteban Bigliardi — whose deadpan style of acting neatly compliments Rejtman’s direction — plays Gustavo, an Argentine yoga instructor in the process of separating from his wife, Vanesa (Manuela Oyarzún). Rejtman follows his hapless hero from a friend’s home to a rented room to his studio and finally to a yoga retreat in the mountains, where Gustavo has a series of occasionally absurd and often poignant interactions with colorful secondary characters —mostly current and former students, and their current and former partners.
Habits are a constant in Rejtman’s work, and The Practice examines our increasing obsession with wellness. Just about everyone in the movie is trying to feel better, both physically and emotionally. And while the story isn’t always linear—the director’s films rarely are — Rejtman does provide a rare and luminous path to happiness for his protagonist. Gentler and more seamless than earlier Rejtman offerings like Two Shots Fired, The Practice shows a director in full command of his powers and represents a unique new form of Argentine comedy.
Duet – Edgardo Cozarinsky & Rafael Ferro
A small and intimate portrait of the relationship between an actor and a director, Duet stars the 84-year-old writer and filmmaker Edgardo Cozarinsky and his frequent collaborator, the actor Rafael Ferro. The film is divided into a dozen short chapters and works beautifully as a dual self-portrait, examining the pair’s work together on productions like Cozarinsky’s Ronda noctura and the stage play Squash, as well as their personal friendship.
Short but intense, Duet also details Ferro’s adventurous and drug-filled life in Europe and his brief stint as a sportsman before becoming one of Argentina’s leading men. Cozarinsky isn’t afraid to make himself vulnerable either, acknowledging his platonic love for Ferro. Duet was shot in the artists’ homes with nothing but a camera and a playful will to experiment. Eschewing production value, the documentary instead aims for raw storytelling, beautifully and sincerely hitting its mark.