This pleasant, accessible family drama is intermittently engaging, but doesn't stick to its own narrative ground rules, so there's not much payoff at the end. Things start out as seen through eyes of the young title character --- a girl on the bum with her hard-bitten mother --- but p.o.v. shifts so often most auds will eventually lose interest. Result is a little too slick for most fests, and a bit unfocused for import into U.S. circuit, but good thesping and glossy tech values should lead to decent tube playoff and healthy vid life in Spanish-lingo markets.

This pleasant, accessible family drama is intermittently engaging, but doesn’t stick to its own narrative ground rules, so there’s not much payoff at the end. Things start out as seen through eyes of the young title character — a girl on the bum with her hard-bitten mother — but p.o.v. shifts so often most auds will eventually lose interest. Result is a little too slick for most fests, and a bit unfocused for import into U.S. circuit, but good thesping and glossy tech values should lead to decent tube playoff and healthy vid life in Spanish-lingo markets.

In her nine years of life, flaxen-haired Muriel (Florencia Camiletti) has been dragged all over Argentina. That’s because her mother, the dark-haired, foul-mouthed Laura (Soledad Villamil), is a ciggy-smoking hothead who moves every time there’s the slightest hint of man trouble. This time, as pic begins, she’s left Muriel’s (probable) dad in Buenos Aires, with nary a goodbye note, headed south to God-knows-where.

Things go OK until they stop to enjoy the view at a mountain lake. In one of those moments that only happen in the movies, Mom lets her car roll into the water, and it sinks without a trace.

Suddenly penniless, and without even a simple change of clothes, mother and daughter start hiking until they find a dilapidated hotel run by Mirta (Ines Estevez), depressed because her hubby has flown the coop, leaving her to cope with two small children. Laura convinces the hostile hotelier that she needs help as much as they do, and an uneasy cohabitation begins.

For a while, the two women are content to explore their unlikely bond, while the kids develop their own back-country games. Things are stirred up mildly by the hunky Tony (Federico Olivera), who brings Mirta groceries and is clearly in love with her, but much more so by Muriel’s father, Ernesto (Cuban star Jorge Perugorria), now a successful photographer, who shows up and patiently pleads his case for starting up the family anew.

Individual events are handled well by first-time helmer Eduardo Milewicz, with the actors given plenty of room to establish their moody characters. Dramatically, however, pic’s structure is feeble, with plot elements raised and then dropped for no apparent reason. Emblematic gaffe has hand-scrawled pages of Muriel’s diary filling the screen as chapter dividers, only to have this device disappear after just a couple of tries. Muriel herself just about vanishes for much of the middle, destroying child’s-eye concept for rest of pic. Hint of lesbian attraction between Laura and Mirta is also floated tentatively, but given no resolution.

Pic is never sloppily lensed, however, and its sheen is buffed by a neat score from “Bagdad Cafe” composer Bob Telson. Appropriately nostalgic tune rendered throughout tale by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso (in Spanish) adds to “Muriel’s” international feel.

Life According to Muriel

(ARGENTINE)

Production

A VCC/Mil Producciones (Buenos Aires) production. Produced by Sergio Bellotti. Executive producers, Liliana Liberman, Mario Pinta. Directed, edited by Eduardo Milewicz. Screenplay, Milewicz, Susana Silvestre.

Crew

Camera (color), Esteban Sapir; music, Bob Telson; production design, Danielo Gimelberg; costumes, Alejandra Erhart; sound (Dolby), Guido Beremblum; assistant director, Paula Hernandez. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 9, 1997. Running time: 103 MIN.

With

With: Soledad Villamil, Ines Estevez, Florencia Camiletti, Federico Olivera, Jorge Perugorria, Maria Lepret, Nahuel Mutti, Carolina Valverde.
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