The most complex and densely written of the new Argentine films at the Buenos Aires fest, Ana Poliak’s “The Faith of the Volcano” chronicles the touching friendship between two of society’s outcasts, an alienated young girl and a disillusioned knife sharpener, to suggest the political repression and injustice of the country’s recent history. World premiered at the Rotterdam fest, this disturbing, atmospheric film shot on a shoestring should attract further fest attention, though its downbeat, thought-provoking tone may make it a difficult sale commercially.
Considered a kind of sequel to Poliak’s feature-length docu, “Que vivan los crotos!,” pic announces its serious intentions from the opening shots of a young woman contemplating suicide. Her insensitive mother comments that suddenly she discovered the girl had a volcano inside her.
This is the prelude’s only link to Anita (Monica Donay), a quiet girl who may be 12 or 13, eking out a living cleaning a beauty parlor. Her infectious smile is brought out in a chance encounter with Danilo (Jorge Prado), a middle-aged man who grinds knives on his bicycle. A born actor, Danilo amuses the girl with his anecdotes, but behind his nonstop chatter lies a profound distrust of his country and its history, specifically the period of the desapareceidos (political arrests and executions).
Danilo claims to be the son of a torturer. How can we walk among corpses, he demands, cynically ignoring the lingering stench? Through their casual meetings, he tries to stimulate Anita’s seemingly dead imagination and bring out her hidden intensity.
Pic’s long closing sequence shows Anita walking along a highway under construction. Open-ended as it is, it suggests Danilo has moved something inside her and that one somehow must have faith in the future.
In her mute sadness, the young Doney is an intense screen presence, while Prado is a tour-de-force of articulated human anguish. Raw, heartfelt camera work from co-scripter Willi Behnisch is edited into images of characters, cityscapes and stolen documentary shots that sometimes are just a jumble, sometimes work. Poliak accompanies these images with carefully selected sounds, rather than music.