Friday, May 01, 2009

TFF Film #7: The Fish Child - Under the Surface of a Femme Fatale

When I was in graduate school, one of my professors said that what you needed to win a Pulitzer prize for literature you needed was a certain combination of sensational plot elements including incest. I don't know if that actually fits the prize winners between 1992 and 1999 when I was in Graduate school, but I thought about this argument after I saw The Fish Child on Wednesday night. I don't mean to say that I didn't like it, but the film did pile on just about every bad thing: incest, murder, prostitution, and there's more but I don't want to give too much away. One of the principle characters was also crying just about every time she was on screen.
The Festival guide hooked me by comparing the film to Thelma and Louise. I also saw it because the director's previous film, XXY won the Critics' week grand prize at Cannes (that one's about hermaphroditism, so there may be something to this Pulitzer Prize formula and big film critics).
So, although I liked the movie I was disappointed because I was expecting an exciting and thrilling movie filled with humor and lively female characters. This movie was more dreamy, slow, and depressing, and the two female characters were troubled, secretive and often silent. The story is told from the point of view of Lala, the rich daughter of a judge who's romantically involved with her family's Paraguayan maid, Ailin, who's about to turn 21. At the beginning of the film, the judge is mysteriously killed, and for the rest of the movie we seek the answer to his murder, and to the "real" identity of the Paraguayan maid. At about one hour into the film I started thinking of Ailin as a classic "Femme Fatale" - but I liked how the movie then undid this "type" and explored her character's origins along with slowly revealing the intensity of the relationship between the two young women. The film was very well paced and since good drama should emerge from believable characters it got away with the soap-operatic plot elements. Since telenovelas also play a role in the film, perhaps this was an intentional commentary on the soap opera as a genre.

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