The Mini Microcinema Screens La Cienaga, a Visual Representation of Classism in Argentina
The Mini Microcinema, a non-profit property founded in 2016, by the current director and independent filmmaker C. Jacqueline Wood is Cincinnati’s only free venue to experience, discuss, and view contemporary film on a weekly basis. The cinema is located in Over the Rhine (OTR), on Main Street in Cincinnati, near many popular local bars, clubs, and specialty boutiques.
The Mini recently screened La Ciénaga, a film directed by Argentinian Lucrecia Martel and shot in her hometown of Salta.
La Ciénaga closely shadows the lives of a bourgeois family and their interactions with
their Amerindian servants during one fateful summer vacation isolated in the mountains. The house’s surroundings of unmitigated filth that the family lives in, and careless treatment of their staff, contrasts well with the narcissism that each member of the family exemplifies at one point or another.
The film opens with a view of the jungle, and dark storm clouds, bloated with impending rainfall. From above the towering treetops of the jungle to a shabby country home, the audience is transported to an enchanting congregation.
A middle-aged, be-speckled woman stumbles between her guests collecting flutes from waiting hands, and just as another peal of thunder clashes, she collapses upon the ground, shards of glass imbedded into her skin, as her cries for help from the servants permeate the air.
From this opening scene, which features swimsuit clad strangers lounging luxuriously around a dark swimming pool, natural comparisons of lifestyle can be made between the lower and upper classes. It is clear Martel wanted the viewer to realize that this privileged family takes their position for granted: the adults are obviously intoxicated, dangerously staged, and laughing next to a swimming pool stagnant with brackish water and algae blooms. Not one of these guests offers their help to the hostess, and instead rely upon the servants and children to escort the injured lady to the hospital.
In a subsequent indoor scene, the same character sits in front of a television, while a ringing telephone rests upon a stand next to her. Instead of reaching over to answer the phone, she calls for a servant to pick it up. She continues to yell and posture until, finally conceding to answer the phone, immediately apologizes to the caller for her “lazy Indian servants”. The irony of her own apparent laziness is not lost upon the viewer, nor is her subtle lack of empathy for others.
The title of the film translates in English to, “The Swamp,” not necessarily a location considered to be an ideal living situation for human beings. Indeed, the wetlands become an apt description for the environment this family thrives in. Throughout the film there is a constant presence of water, whether it be from the weather, or a bath. The children always seem to be dripping wet and covered in mud, even when decently clothed.
Metaphorically, a swamp can be seen as something dark and never-ending, like a maze that requires constant navigation and wrong turns. Perhaps Martel picked the title as an apt description for life: fraught with confusion and murky sense of direction.
La Ciénaga is a difficult film to watch, as it is more like an unbiased presentation of events rather than a suggestion of any real answers to this family’s depicted existence. They have money to burn: multiple cars, a private summer retreat, and staff to watch their children and tend to their home. And yet, for all of their worldly possessions and great affluence, the characters remain abstinently egotistical, caring for no one but themselves, a fact that is never remedied in the film, simply observed.
The classes of the elite have always been subject to scrutiny. Martel’s film, La Ciénaga, is like a beautiful, ephemeral, undertow. Simultaneously inviting the viewer into the private sphere of the wealthy, while also excluding: she never truly surrenders her character’s innermost thoughts, or even provides just consequences for their actions.
Like walking through a beloved hometown neighborhood where the past and present intermingle—as is the case for the Mini in OTR—it is up to the spectator to decide where to go to next.
The Mini Microcinema hosts weekly film screenings for free, check out their website for more information. http://www.mini-cinema.org
Written by Laura Erckert.