La Ciénaga, Lucrecia Martel, Argentina-Spain-France, 2001, 103’ OV
Is this the most iconic pond/swimming pool of Argentine film? It is very possible. In the year 2001 a young director from the province of Salta presented a film at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it received the Alfred Bauer prize "for opening new perspectives on cinematic art". And it really did: for the first time a storm, a hot afternoon before the rain or characters closed in on themselves, took over the screen with the power that this film did. It was the moment when the name Lucrecia Martel became big and took international screens and festivals by storm. Since then, she has been a cult director, one whose work is awaited anxiously and nervously by cinephiles around the world.
February in north-eastern Argentina. A sun that cracks open the ground and tropical rains. In the mountains, some land is flooded. These swamps are lethal traps for animals with deep footprints. On the other hand, they are crawling with happy vermin. But this story isn’t just about dead waters, but about the city of La Ciénaga and its surroundings. Some ninety kilometres away is the town of Rey Muerto, and close to there the country house La Mandrágora (The Mandrake in English).
The mandrake is a plant that was used as a sedative, before ether and morphine, when a person had to go through something painful, such as an amputation. La Mandrágora is also the name of a country house with a swimming pool where they harvest and dry red peppers, and where Mecha spends the summer, a middle-aged woman in her 50s who has four children and a husband who dyes his hair. But this is something that can be quickly forgotten with a couple of drinks. Though, as Tali says, alcohol comes in through one door but doesn’t go out another. Tali is Mecha's cousin. She also has four children, and a husband who loves his home, hunting and his children. She lives in La Ciénaga (The Swamp), in a house without a swimming pool.
Two accidents will bring these two families together in the countryside, where they will try to survive a hellish summer. But not all of them will manage to.