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La Ciénaga Review


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Reviews of Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel's second feature, 2004's The Holy Girl, tended toward the same complaint: the plot was unshaped, despite the presence of an obviously gifted director. Call it a sophomore slump, then, because Martel already had one great film under her belt at the time. Released on DVD domestically right around the time The Holy Girl hit American theaters, 2001's La Ciénaga is the most remarkable debut in recent experience.

The title translates as "the swamp," but it's also the name of the Argentinean city that serves as the film's setting. In this sweltering backwater, two branches of the same large family are put back in contact when a pair of accidents lands a member of each in the clinic run by "the gringo," a local doctor. One group - a married couple with innumerable children and their constantly-present friends - lives in the city, comfortably, but still scraping to get by. The other - an heiress, her drunken husband, their innumerable children, and an indigenous housekeeper named Isabel - pass the hours in a lavish but crumbling estate attained through a ridiculously complex series of gates near the mountains outside La Ciénaga. When the city family pays their relatives a visit at this estate, the repressed drama of La Ciénaga gets underway.

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