Review: ‘Monobloc’

"Monobloc" is a ponderous attempt by sophomore helmer Luis Ortega to achieve auteur status. Designed to be beyond total comprehensibility, the pic is love-it-or-hate-it fare featuring a strong cast and crew who have whipped up a sumptuous-looking and sometimes seductive piece that throws away the rulebook.

Pretentious, dreamlike “Monobloc” is a ponderous attempt by sophomore helmer Luis Ortega to achieve auteur status. Designed, by the helmer’s own surprising admission, to be beyond total comprehensibility, the pic is love-it-or-hate-it fare featuring a strong cast and crew who have whipped up a sumptuous-looking and sometimes seductive piece that throws away the rulebook, but unlike David Lynch’s best work seems disinterested in supplying any rules of its own.

The story apparently takes place after the world has mysteriously ended, and is mostly set in a massive concrete building — seemingly the monobloc of the title — near an ex-fairground where the sick Perla (Graciela Borges, from Lucrecia Martel’s “The Swamp”) has been fired from her job, which is to weara Minnie Mouse mask. She lives with her sullen, unnamed daughter (Carolina Fal), who sports a built-up shoe and hangs out in a red swimsuit, and a bumptious maternal figure called the Godmother (Rita Cortese).

Perla makes regular trips to a hospital, where she is given blood transfusions by a nurse, also played by Fal. The daughter is apparently visited by anonymous men for sex, while the Godmother spends her time soaking in a large tub, knocking back Fernet Branca and trying to make their ultra-grim lives a little more agreeable. The only other character is the fairground owner, an incongruously sexy nameless woman (Evangelina Salazar) whom Perla calls her best friend, which is not hard when there seem to be only four people alive in the world.

All about form and very little about content, pic has great fun with visuals — colors are either intense reds or stark whites — and texture. Great care has been taken over sound, with menacing, Lynch-like rumbles accompanying most scenes. There are plenty of nice surreal touches — garden gnomes feature prominently.

Pic hints at greater depths, but what those depths might be is never addressed. For example, emotion is dealt with only obliquely — the daughter is jealous of the Godmother’s attempts to convince the dying Perla that life’s worth living — but since there is zero character development, what the characters feel is hardly relevant.Perfs are all fine, with the bumptious Cortese standing out, and looking comically out of place in such grim surroundings.

Self-regarding pic includes a brief reference to Ortega’s 2002 debut feature “Black Box,” thrown in for no apparent dramatic reason.

Monobloc

Argentina

Production

A Villa Vicio production. (International sales: Villa Vicio, Buenos Aires). Executive producer, Chino Fernandez. Directed by Luis Ortega. Screenplay, Carolina Fal, Ortega.

Crew

Camera (color), Jorge Pastorino; editor, Cesar Custodio; music, Leandro Chiappe; art director, Mercedes Alfonsin; sound (Dolby), Martin Porta, Catriel Vildosola. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival (competing), April 21, 2005. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Graciela Borges, Rita Cortese, Carolina Fal, Evangelina Salazar.
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