Sunday, July 26, 2009

Martel vs Alonso

The first leg: Los Muertos vs La ciénaga

I first read about a comparison between the two Argentine film-makers Lisandro Alonso and Lucrecia Martel in 2008 when their new works were doing the rounds in the film festival circuit. It seemed that some people preferred the style of one over the other. My only familiarity with either director was restricted to just one film, Alonso’s Los Muertos and Martel’s La ciénaga (The Swamp). One film is not enough to draw a conclusion. But if I had to give a view based on a solitary work, I would easily give the nod to Alonso. Los Muertos was poetry in motion. A beautiful film where the camera had full freedom to roam about and as a result, the audience could breathe and soak in the environment. Whereas, Martel’s The Swamp was cramped up in familial settings and only started to come to life near the end.

Second Leg: The Headless Woman vs Liverpool

So how would the second round fare? The first 10 minutes of Martel’s The Headless Woman are beautiful but that changes shortly because the main character Veronica is not meant to be adored. This is emphasized by Martel's decision to only focus the camera on Veronica’s face most of the time, even when other people are talking. At other times, the camera is focusing on her side profile or is just behind her shoulder giving us her line of sight. This is done on purpose to show that from Veronica's perspective the people around her not worthy of attention

This is a brilliant stroke from Martel as she wants the audience to experience the sense of dizziness and detachment that Veronica undergoes as a result of an accident early on the film. In addition, her film highlights the class difference in Argentine society as Veronica is well off and treats the constant supply of servants and caregivers around her without much thought. On occasions, the camera blurs out the view of these other characters trying to emphasize that these people are invisible to Veronica.

Overall, The Headless Woman is a much more dynamic and large scale work than The Swamp.

Unfortunately, I can't reach a final decision in the Martel vs Alonso match-up because I am still waiting to see Alonso’s Liverpool. Although if his film is as good as Los Muertos, then for me, Alonso would easily be the winner.

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