by Kevin Vaughn
We begin at a road rarely traveled. Three women of varying ages and experience have come to a severely impoverished town somewhere in the Santa Fe province to perform medical exams and surveys. This is all that I knew walking into Santiago Loza and Iván Fund´s directorial collaboration, Los Labios, a spectacular film that reaches the crescendos of minimalist filmmaking seldom captured on the screen. With incredible sensitivity they tell us everything we need to know about this little town without saying very much at all. The mixture of fiction and documentary creates imagery that feels so natural we forget we are watching a film and feel like an active member of this simple human exchange.
I had a similar experience with another film by Fund, La Risa, which was about a group of friends in a situation that every young person who has lived in this country long enough can understand: coming home from the party, the rising sun serves as a backdrop, the journey home feels never ending and your body is debating whether to hold on to the ecstasy of the night or give in to much desired sleep. The outcome was an absurd exercise in exploring time and cinema.
Minimalist filmmaking doesn’t stop at Fund; this is a trend that has taken a stronghold on Argentine independent film, where the art of filmmaking has taken precedence over building strong plots and story arcs. Sometimes it’s executed wonderfully, like for example in Marco Berger’s buddy comedy Plan B, or quite boringly, but we aren’t dropping names. Los Labios falls into the former.
Let’s return to that road rarely traveled. The one where three female socials workers have been dropped off by the state to perform medical procedures for a village that is only marginally surviving. The women are housed in a run down hospital; it’s partly flooded, rusting rapidly, a comical scene involving the three women and a rat wouldn’t feel at all out of place. They are warm and humble; as their guide shows them around they take in their new surroundings quietly, without complaint.
They slowly get to know the community. Most of the inhabitants are out of work and bordering on malnourishment. The interactions are honest and engaging, with good reason, as the villagers are played by non-actors. The locals were given a blank canvas to work with. When the women (the films only professional actors) ask them a question, the locals were instructed to give honest answers, or improv as they saw fit, and it’s hard to distinguish the difference between the two.
What’s perhaps most striking is the lightness of Fund and Loza’s commentary, and how effortlessly they weld together the women’s non-fiction narrative with local’s real day-to-day life – the camera switches between using a handheld camera to interview the townspeople, which are intimate and personal, to beautifully composed landscapes or close-ups that are lyrical and mysterious. The result is a genuine conversation about the dilemmas of poverty from voices that are normally set on mute that never loses track of the beauty that the people possess.
But the films strongest point is three fantastic performances from Eva Bianco, Victoria Raposo and Adela Sanchez. Loza and Fund don’t provide their back-stories. We don´t know who they are or where they come from. What we know about them can only be inquired within a quick 100-minute narrative. All three women create richly developed personalities; one has a strange nightly ritual that happens off screen and remains an unresolved curiosity, an act of defiant confidence on behalf of Fund and Loza.
Los Labios is playing at the MALBA every Saturday and Sunday of May at 6pm.