Good Will and Bad Results

in 37th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, Havana

by Furio Fossati

Paulina, a remake of French-Argentinian director Daniel Tinayre’s The Rape (La Patota, 1960) is an intense, impactful film, proving that even in the cold world of social climbers, there are individuals willing to take on challenges. We see urban wealth juxtaposed with the hardship of rural communities, through the tale of a young woman from a Catholic family who makes brave choices.

Paulina is directed by the 35-year-old Argentinian Santiago Mitre, who focuses on scenes between a father and daughter. The daughter Paulina is strong and confident about her life choices, while the father is a judge who deeply loves his daughter and wants her to have a successful career as a lawyer. But at the age of 28, Paulina drops out of her brilliant legal career to devote her life to teaching in a disadvantaged region of Argentina. She tackles a hostile environment but is firmly committed to her educational mission, even if it means losing her relationship with her father Fernando.

A few days after her arrival, Paulina is assaulted by a gang of youngsters, including some of her students. In spite of her trauma and uncertainty about what happened, she remains faithful to her mission. Although Paulina has been raped, she does not report the chief instigator of the attacks to the police, reasoning that the group’s behavior is a result of the hardships and injustices they have suffered. She becomes pregnant but doesn’t want to have an abortion. Her boyfriend does not want to parent the child and her father nearly disowns her.

This film stirs up emotions, engrossing us in the girl’s difficult conflict with herself and the world around her. Mitre handles his small group of characters perfectly, giving the film a consistent rhythm.

His direction focuses on the relationship between father and daughter – which is one of love, but also contains unbridgeable gaps. Although Paulina and Fernando share the same values, they live them very differently. Fernando worries that, with her extreme choices, Paulina will lose everything in life. Like all parents, he dreams that his daughter will enjoy everything he never had a chance to. But Paulina sees Fernando as the embodiment of a codified, strict, prohibitive society – until the very end.

Paulina wants to create change, to be useful to others and find a way to live in peace with herself and her conscience. That seems laudable, yet it turns out to be the result of her immaturity, her need to prove her independence from a father who dominates her life and even her work. She does not realize that her life is in danger. She is received with distrust by the rural inhabitants. Her students long to get rid of her, seeing school as an unbearable impediment to their desires and not wanting to give up their way of life. The local adults also see Paulina as a stranger, who might threaten their (not always legal) lifestyle.

Paulina is assaulted on her way back from the isolated home of one of her colleagues; we get the sense that she is a chosen victim to be sacrificed on the altar of violence, a way for her attackers to gain the respect of others.

From the beginning, the camera takes obsessive close-ups of the characters, recreating Paulina’s feelings of claustrophobia. The viewer experiences a surge of emotional tension from every change in expression. As Paulina, Dolores Fonzi gives a well-balanced performance, while Oscar Martinez is perfect as Fernando. The theatrical nature of the screenplay makes it easy to enjoy the dialogue between these two, which is uncommonly effective.

Mitre is a respected screenwriter who made his directorial debut in 2013 with the very interesting The Student (El estudiante), which toured many festivals. In Paulina, he uses all his experience as a documentarist to give authenticity to a good story about self-destruction.

Edited by Lesley Chow