"How Most Things Work": A Movie about Transition

in 30th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Juan Pablo Cinelli

While for some people death represents the end of a journey, to others it is the beginning of a new one. Those who are left behind and must learn to coexist with the absence of their loved ones are the real victims of death, but also the real voyagers. Because for the survivors, death opens up a possibility for a fresh start, or at least a possibility to radically rethink the journey. Facing this transcendental experience, but not fully conscious of the critical moment in which she begins to deal with, is where Celina finds herself after her father’s death. This event also marks the beginning of a new cinematographic path, as is proposed in Fernado Salem’s debut How Most Things Work (Cómo funcionan casi todas las cosas).

Winner of Best Director prize at the 30th Mar del Plata International Film Festival, where it also received the Best Script award from the Argentinian Author’s General Society (Argentores), How most things work is a film about transition. It tells the story of a young woman who spent her life in a little town at the foot of the Andes mountain range. First the protagonist will be forced to abandon the role of a daughter and meet her fate as a woman. At the same time she will have to defeat the motionless inertia of an entire life spent within the borders of her hometown. In both cases, Celina (soundly played by Verónica Gerez) will meet resistance, as proposed by the figure of Sandro, a loving friend who insists on keeping her in the suspended state in which the father’s agony put her in. Celina needs to free herself from this anchor in order to finally start moving.

Her personal growth is also disguised in a job change – Celina leaves the inert safety of her job at the toll booth of a semi-abandoned route, for an uncertain adventure replacing her father as a door-to-door salesman of the encyclopedia that gives its name to the film. At this point, all of Celina’s inner paths embody the actual journey that she will endure through the province’s routes with another saleswoman that acts as instructor. Here the film becomes a “road movie” and the trip functions as an initiation. With those ingredients the movie could have turned into a sentimental pastiche, but Salem avoids those bad omens. With a balanced combination of naturalism and magic realism, comedy and tragedy, humor with emotion, the director presents an approach of moderate Costumbrismo. Despite the somewhat uncomfortable tightness caused by the attempts to bring out the emotional knots of the story by using  tones ranging from candid to naïf, How most things work depicts a gentle journey to the heart of a young girl who sets out to the world for the first time.

Edited by Yael Shuv