Pretension swallows up "Water," Veronica Chen's shallow follow-up to her 2001 debut, "Smokers Only." Hardly different in basic outline from innumerable recent sports films about underdogs turning their lives around, the pic's only twist is a pointlessly elliptical storytelling gambit. Fest interest will be mild at best for a film with little commercial kick.

Pretension swallows up “Water,” Veronica Chen’s shallow follow-up to her fine 2001 debut, “Smokers Only.” Bookended by a hauntingly atmospheric opening sequence and a finale that makes the central characters’ involvement with marathon swimming vivid and physical, the pic has a gaping hole in the middle. Hardly different in basic outline from innumerable recent sports films about outsiders and underdogs turning their lives around, the pic’s only twist is an excessively and pointlessly elliptical storytelling gambit. Fest interest will be mild at best for a film with little commercial kick.

Startling intro establishes Goyo (Rafael Ferro), as a lonely man working in a desert wilderness that resembles huge expanses of southern Utah. He’s linked by montage with aspiring young swimmer Chino (Nicolas Mateo), whose pregnant g.f. Ana (Leonora Balcarce) must deal with fact that if he makes the swim team, he’ll be traveling. Goyo, suddenly appearing at the swimming pool, is told by Chino’s coach, Roque (Pablo Testa), that he’s not welcome.

Seems Goyo was wrongly accused in a doping scandal, and though he looks upon Chino skeptically, he thinks the lad can assist him in his comeback in a marathon river race.

Chen takes her time tying elements together, but once a full picture emerges — after long stretches of uneventful dialogue shot with little imagination — it amounts to just another trite sports plot. De-dramatizing their narrative, Chen and co-writer Pablo Lago demonstrate little interest in their characters, and especially botch Goyo’s personal struggle to restore his good name.

Pic grows stronger during the marathon swim climax, which, appears to be the only reason the pic was made. Ten minutes in the water with master and mentor says more about human will and desire than the remaining 80. Thesping has near zero impact; the real stars are lenser Sabine Lancelin and editors Jacopo Quadri and Cesar D’Angiolillo.

Water

Argentina - France

Production

A Bambu and Archipel 35 presentation. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Veronica Chen, Denis Freyd. Executive producers, Gabriela Schmid, Juan Pablo Gugliotta. Directed by Veronica Chen. Screenplay, Chen, Pablo Lago.

Crew

Camera (Cinecolor), Sabine Lancelin; editors, Jacopo Quadri, Cesar D'Angiolillo; production designer, Eva Duarte; costume designer, Paola Delgado; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Grignaschi; underwater camera, Matias Mesa; assistant director, Nicolas Di Cocco. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival, April 20, 2006. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Rafael Ferro, Nicolas Mateo, Gloria Carra, Leonora Balcarce, Jimena Anganuzzi, Diego Alonso, Pablo Testa.
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