By Jim Slotek
A soap opera on the surface, it takes a long while for Pablo Trapero’s The Quietude to rise above its plot of rich, unfaithful couples, random sex and sullen, unspoken grudges. When it does, it becomes a story of big lies that metastasize.
The Argentinian film, which played at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals last year, almost plays its hand early in its opening scenes, as it whets our appetite for something dire.
We meet the frail, elderly, lawyer Augusto Montemayor (Isidoro Tolcachir), as he’s chauffeured to an office appointment by his youngest daughter Mía (Martina Gusmán). Once there, she patiently waits outside the door, and we hear snippets of her adored father being grilled about the “power of attorney” he’d been granted to acquire properties. Among them: the family ranch and mansion, named La Quietud.
If Augusto was about to come clean about something, that intention is derailed by a sudden stroke, which leaves him in a coma. The event both snaps shut this opening narrative (for a while, though anyone familiar with Argentina’s history of dictatorship will have some clue as to what it means), and provides an excuse for that old movie standby, a fraught family reunion in a country mansion.
The stay-at-home daughter Mía is soon joined by her married Parisian sister Eugenia (The Artist’s Bérénice Bejo), with whom she is, um, uncommonly close. It’s not long before they are in bed, recreating their teenage practice of masturbating together to giddy sex talk. It’s also not long before “Euge” is renewing her affair with family friend Esteban (Joaquín Furriel). Lest Mía feel left out, it’s also not long before the arrival of Euge’s husband Vincent (Edgar Ramírez) and the revelation that Mía and Vincent have been carrying on for some time.
That’s a lot of skeletons out of the closet already, with more to come. Euge – who soon announces she is pregnant - turns out to be by far the favourite daughter of mom Esmeralda (Graciela Borges), whose clear disdain for Mía is a puzzling maternal contrast. Esmerelda also can’t for long keep up the façade of her deep love for her mortally ill husband.
Much time is spent by Trapero allowing these grudges to breathe (a scene in which Aretha Franklin’s cover of People plays over an awkward moment is particularly clever). And the running gag of the power going off and on, causing the turntable music to slow down to a moan and speed back up is a nice little metaphor for a luxurious life that is fraying at the edges.
The result is that, running out of screentime, The Quietude all but sprints in its last act to answer every single question and deal out appropriate retribution.
What keeps the movie from being simply a series of lurid events is the relationship between Mía and Euge, played with an easy grace by Gusmán and Bejo. Their chemistry is so comfortable, you have to remind yourself they aren’t actually sisters. Borges is also a formidable actress, but it’s inherent in her role as Esmerelda that she be withholding – although that changes with seismic intensity in the busy last chapter.
The Quietude. Directed and co-written by Pablo Trapero. Starring Martina Gusmán, Bérénice Bejo and Graciela Borges. Opens March 22 in Toronto at the Cineplex Varsity and at other Cineplex theatres.