The Silence of the Sea

in 21st Torino Film Festival

by Francesco di Pace

Swimming alone, among the waste of its own recent history, seems to be one of the greatest urgencies of the new wave of the Argentine cinema. A slow wave, for many years unending, vibrant, violent, carrying by a strong idea of a cinema that often uses the narrative expedient of the “voyage” as an intimate research, showing in the same time a strong aesthetic sense and the necessity to rebuild its own creative identity.

Even “Swimming Alone” (Nadar solo), the first long film of 26 years old Ezequiel Acuña, in competition in the last Turin Film Festival, like other recent Argentine releases, assumes minimalism as its stylistic form, facing the voyage topic. Let’s think about films like “Tan de repente” or the more interesting “Ana y los otros” by Celina Murga, where the wandering of the main character is apparently related to find the traces of a person from her past, a boy whom she was in love with during her adolescence, but it reveals itself like a typical Hitchcock macGuffin.

In “Swimming Alone” Martin is a teenager from a Buenos Aires middle class family, “not a rebel without a cause”, who only tries to fill an emptiness (of feelings, communication, certainty) with an inattentive necessity to find his older brother Pablo, who ran away from home some years before without leaving any traces.

But the distance from the political urgency of the past generations in relations with the desaparecidos problem is enormous: Acuña’s desaparecido is just the way to express an absence, the one that provokes this Buenos Aires’ “Holden Caulfield” rebellion. A rebellion not towards an economical or a political system, much more against the incapacity of the new Argentine society to give existential answers, and to give them to the new generations, most of all.

Martins’ attempts to communicate, lazy but melancholic, are frustrated from the ones that surround him: the father who thinks only about personal gratifications, the anxious mother and the younger sister reluctant to any kind of affection, a friend and music-mate who abandons him for his girlfriend, teachers that are not capable to get on the same wavelength as students. Acuña shows surprising ability and aesthetic rigor in narrating the loneliness and the slow torments of the main character who remains alive in our memory with few lines of the script, and for his impressive acting.

And the director’s aim is not to describe, rather to observe, in a quite distant manner but with sincerity, the world of a boy who feels he doesn’t belong anywhere and who will, maybe, accidentally find love.

Buenos Aires is shot in an incisive way, as a silent prison, where the barriers are as invisible as insuperable. And when the action shifts from there to Mar del Plata, where Martin meets Luciana, a sister of Pablo’s best friend, the director manages to keep the film so vivid and credible, without falling in the temptation to transform it in a predictable young-teenager love story.

And if the film may be suffering from a partially resolved ending, that’s because the author didn’t want to compromise with sweetened formulas or dramatic peaks.

Acuña’s cinematographic references are evident, from Truffaut’s “Les Quatre cents coups” to some echoes from the early Jarmusch; or more recently from Italian directors related to his country, I mean Vincenzo Marra and Marco Bechis.

But another thing is certain, Argentina and worldwide cinema have definitively found an interesting filmmaker.