Las amigas

Crítica de Pablo Suárez - Buenos Aires Herald

Top-notch experimental Argentine filmmaking

One of the most thought-provoking sections of the last edition of the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI), held in April this year, was Avant Garde & Genre, which gathered experimental, groundbreaking features that went beyond preconceived boundaries.

Paulo Pécora’s Las amigas and Ignacio Masllorens’s Hábitat are two cases in point. In case you haven’t seen Las amigas and Hábitat at the BAFICI, you now have the chance to do so for they are being screened at the Centro Cultural de la Cooperación (Ave. Corrientes 1543) on Thursdays at 7pm throughout October.

Las amigas (Paulo Pécora, 35 mins, 2013). Four girlfriends live together in an abandoned mansion, worn out by tediousness: they are immortal vampires whose lives are nothing but a series of repetitive scenes that have been taking place forever — and will keep on taking place forever too. And these are different vampires too: they talk very little, they don’t really relate to one another, they’re kind of disgusting and don’t do much to hide it.

Shot entirely on Super 8mm, and starring Ana Utrero, Mónica Lairana, Gladys Lizarazu y Natalia Festa, Las amigas, by Argentine filmmaker and journalist Paulo Pécora (El sueño del perro, Marea baja), is a rare, most appealing medium-length film that addresses its nominal theme (the universe of deadly female vampires) at the same time it reflects upon the nature of the film medium, about its possibilities, its scope.

It’s also the type of film that enters your system and stays in there for a long time. It is narrative, meaning there’s some kind of a story with a conflict, characters and development, and yet you are not likely to remember it as such. It’s more of a surrealistic experience where you wander among a series of images, sounds, fragments, textures, special effects, lights and shadows that creatively create moods and atmospheres for an entire world to exist in.

Pécora resorts to black and white, but he also goes for colour as master of horror Dario Argento does, driven by passion and confidence — and with plenty of deep red. High contrasted images mix together with more opaque ones that evoke the air of silent cinema as the enveloping sound design adds yet other sensorial layers.

An inspired poetic rendition of lust, sex and death, Las amigas boasts the influence of US experimental filmmaker Maya Deren (Meshes of the Afternoon), Carl Theodor Dreyer, the Hammer horror films and, yes, David Lynch too. But it doesn’t mimic them, it’s not an empty exercise in style. Instead, it’s about taking some bits from these masters to resignify them in a different context, that of an urban Buenos Aires in a suspended time. Despite the influences, Pécora sings his own song.

Hábitat (Ignacio Masllorens, 40 mins, 2013). Picture a seemingly endless series of 13-second static shots of Buenos Aires very early in the morning, without a single person in sight. The scenario is literally deserted (though there’s a dog in one shot). The first shots are in the deepest spot the city can offer, where there’s some nature left. Then it’s the turn of avenues, streets, houses, buildings, corners, facades, trees and parks. Eventually, the interiors of ordinary places appear: a factory, a shopping mall, an apartment, the subway.

It all looks so different without any people at all. It looks like Buenos Aires and yet it doesn’t: it could be a city anchored somewhere in a lost universe where life has ceased to exist. It’s a surreal city, not like that of Pécora’s in Las amigas, but surreal nonetheless. And it also shares an air of eeriness, although in the city of Masllorens the sun shines bright on even if it seems everybody is dead somewhere out of the picture – surely that’s another reason that makes it creepy.

Like Las amigas, Hábitat is a first rate cinematic experience. It’s a journey with no destination and no purpose that just invites you to get lost in the city you thought you knew. It’s beautifully filmed, with a clear eye for composition and visual design and a great understanding of how things can look like when we look at them in a different way. It’s also an architectonic document, but not one made of generic post cards and standardized beauty — on the contrary. Just like it shows the exteriors of things, their surface, it evokes their essence regardless of shapes. It’s observational and contemplative, but it seldom drags.

With the healthy influence of US filmmaker James Benning, Ignacio Masllorens also avoids following a predetermined blueprint on how to make a film about a place with no people — and make it cool and arty. He just takes the initial premise, adds his own imprint, and executes it perfectly.