Review: ‘Northeast’

An ably told tale about a childless Frenchwoman who travels to a remote region of Argentina in search of a baby to adopt, "Northeast" convincingly brings together the harsh reality themes from new Argentine cinema and a Western style of dramatic storytelling. Film's conventional look and feel should help it cross over from festival play to more mainstream venues.

An ably told tale about a childless Frenchwoman who travels to a remote region of Argentina in search of a baby to adopt, “Northeast” convincingly brings together the harsh reality themes from new Argentine cinema and a Western style of dramatic storytelling. On his feature directing bow, award-winning short filmmaker Juan Solanas shows a talent for compelling female characters, aided by an impassioned Carole Bouquet in the lead role. Film’s conventional look and feel should help it cross over from festival play to more mainstream venues, particularly television.

Helene (Bouquet) leads a sales meeting for her pharmaceutical company before traveling to Argentina to adopt a child. Her journey is intercut with the tribulations of Juana (Aymara Rovero), a young single mother living in the Argentine countryside, who ekes out a precarious living for herself and her 13-year-old son Martin (Ignacio Ramon Jimenez).

When Helene’s adoption arrangements fall through in Buenos Aires, she hears about the possibility of finding a child in the country’s poverty-stricken Northeast. Young lawyer Gustavo (Juan Pablo Domench) warns her, however, it will be necessary to cut an illegal deal with child traffickers there.

In her desperation, Helene is ready for anything: Much later, however, she will learn this area is infamous for its traffic in children: selling them for adoption, child prostitution or even organ traffic.

Meanwhile, Juana is pregnant again and is being evicted from her hovel. She struggles with the option of giving Martin up for adoption abroad, but she loves him too much to let him go.

Inevitably, Helene and Juana meet. Juana has tried to abort her baby and comes to Helene for help. At the same time, Helene is given an opportunity to buy a newborn infant for $45,000.

The film shows how cheap children’s lives are to men who have no qualms about what happens to them and has a lot of points to make. To his credit, Solanas gets those points in without seriously hamstringing the drama.

Bouquet turns in a bold performance as the frustrated mother, and female viewers will particularly identify with her undisguised joy cooing over a child. Rovero, playing the other side of the coin, is equally intense and strikingly earthy in the film’s single bedroom scene.

Other characters, however, are underdeveloped to the point of being mere cliches, like the big-eyed son and the concerned lawyer. Script also tends to be written tamely by the numbers, though an open ending redeems its predictability to some extent.

Felix Monti’s widescreen cinematography has a few drop-dead views of the misty green countryside that seems to stretch out endlessly, isolating the characters from the world. Most of the shooting, however, opts for efficient storytelling over arty effects.

Northeast

France-Spain-Belgium-Argentina

Production

An Onyx Films (France)/Montfort Producciones (Spain)/K2 (Belgium)/Polar Films (Argentina)/France 2 Cinema co-production. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Paris.) Directed by Juan Solanas. Screenplay, Solanas, Eduardo Berti.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Felix Monti; editor, Fernando Franco; music, Sergio Makaroff; production designer, Sergio Rud; costume designer, Paula Moore; sound (Dolby Digital), Ricardo Steinberg; assistant director, Fernando Alcalde. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 11, 2005. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Helene - Carole Bouquet Juana - Aymara Rovero Gustavo - Juan Pablo Domench Martin - Ignacio Ramon Jimenez
With: Jorge Roman, Daniel Valenzuela, Mercedes Sampietro, Nicolae Teodoru.
Spanish, French dialogue)
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