November 23, 2014
After premiering in Berlinale’s official competition, Celina Murga’s film opens in BA theatresFriday, March 14, 2014
La tercera orilla: torn between two worlds
For the Herald
“A river only has two sides. The third side would be a nonexistent place, and it refers to the place Nicolás doesn’t have, but wishes he did. He’s a character torn between two worlds: that of the father with all its quirks, strict rules and tyranny, and that of the mother and his siblings with its own rules and codes. In view of this, Nicolás tries to decide which road to follow. The third side of the river is a place he has yet to build. It doesn’t exist,” says Argentine filmmaker Celina Murga about the title of her new opus, La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River), now locally released and previously featured early this year at the Berlin Film Festival.
Not only is teenager Nicolás (Alian Devetac) under the huge pressure of inhabiting two worlds — which also implies he’s not fully at home in either one — but he also has to endure the fact that his father, Jorge (Daniel Veronese), has been leading a double life for many, many years.
On the one hand, there are Nicolás, his two siblings Andrea (Irina Wetzel) and Esteban (Tomas Omacini), and his mother, Nilda (Gaby Ferrero); on the other hand, there are his official wife (a younger and somewhat attractive woman) and a child (who goes to the same school as his half-siblings).
Jorge supports his second family but doesn’t acknowledge them socially. However, he has decided that Nicolás should follow in his footsteps, both as a doctor and a landholder (the man has his contradictions). Of course, he’s never asked him what he wanted to be, which makes sense for he’s a man who won’t recognize the needs and wants of others. Not that Nicolás will submissively accept his father’s desires and the pain he causes his mother. In fact, he secretly hates and rejects him and it gets worse as time goes by. That’s why things can get ugly from one moment to the next.
Like her previous works, Murga’s fourth feature bears her distinctive style: it’s leisurely paced, it goes for the essence of the drama by means of details, minor gestures and small occurrences. It eschews psychological explanations, revelatory dialogue, and a narrative anchored in a linear idea of cause and effect. Murga goes after realism in every possible sense, so incidental music is out of the question too. Her camera beautifully captures the air and shades of everyday small-town life, and brings viewers somewhat close to the characters. Overall, the performances are convincing and effortlessly ring true.
Unlike her previous features, this slow-burner is far from luminous. There’s a pervasive sense of anguish and gloom, an atmosphere of despair that accounts for Nicolás’s predicament. Prolonged silences and eloquent pauses add to the asphyxiating environment. What matters here is what’s left unsaid.
Murga’s style does pay off in many regards, that’s for sure. It allows viewers to get more than a quick look at the conflicts and the protagonists, it’s got nuances that help build a multifaceted depiction of a certain idiosyncrasy typical of closed, endogenous communities, as the director has made clear. In so doing, an entire society is under scrutiny.
However, there are some drawbacks too. Even if the film’s rhythm rightfully favours a contemplative experience, every now and then it slows down the narrative too — and it doesn’t seem to be deliberate. As a result, the dramatic drive becomes less compelling. Also, the reluctance to gives viewers information to complete the scenario sometimes renders characters more opaque than necessary.
A degree of distance is surely welcomed in these types of narrative, but too much distance permeates the film with uninvolved aloofness. The paradox lies in the fact that considering what happens to Nicolás, his story can’t afford to be distant.
All in all, La tercera orilla has more assets than downsides, it offers an exhaustive view of a small universe with its own codes and laws, and it keeps its focus from the first frame to the last. It’s a painful coming of age story with a colour of its own.
La tercera orilla (The Third Side of the River), Argentina, 2013. Directed by Celina Murga. Written by Gabriel Medina and Celina Murga. Produced by: Juan Villegas y Celina Murga. Executive producer: Martin Scorsese. Cinematography: Diego Poleri. Editing: Eliane D. Katz. Running time: 92 minutes.