A leisurely but rewardingly intense dual narrative that delicately unpicks the secret lives of women.

Jaime Rosales beautifully consolidates the achievement of his distinguished debut, “The Hours of the Day,” with “Solitary Fragments,” a leisurely but rewardingly intense dual narrative that delicately unpicks the secret lives of women. The determined experimentalism sometimes jars but is rarely an obstacle thanks to helmer’s focus on emotional momentum. Further fest play is guaranteed for this niche item, with pic likely to find some companionship in offshore arthouses.

Rosales’ earlier pic dealt with abnormality in the form of a serial killer; this time the same approach is brought to bear on a series of more obviously average protags. Result is a superbly understated, gripping study of women as mothers, daughters, partners and victims.

Adela (Sonia Almarcha), separated from Pedro (Jose Luis Torrijo), lives an empty life in the provinces, bringing up their son Miguelito (Eric Garcia), looking after her father (Juan Margallo) and working in an office. Adela leaves for Madrid in search of better things, and moves into an apartment with Ines (Miriam Correa) and latter’s partner, Carlos (Luis Villanueva), taking on work as a conference assistant.

Her life is showing signs of improvement when, with brutal suddenness, the bus in which she is traveling with Miguelito is blown up by a terrorist bomb. Auds’ reaction to the following scenes is contaminated by the fact that it is not yet made clear who, if anyone, has been killed.

Pic’s second strand is more densely populated. Widowed Antonia (Petra Martinez) owns a grocery store and goes out with Manolo (Jesus Cracio). She’s the mother of Adela’s flatmate, Ines — the only point of connection between the two narratives — Nieves (Nuria Mencia) and Helena (Maria Bazan). Nieves, in one brilliantly played scene, is diagnosed with cancer, the first of the pressures that will start to chip away at Antonia’s well-being.

Another pressure comes in the form of the selfish Helena, who nags Antonia to ask Manolo for a loan to buy a second home: this parallels Pedro’s attempts to get money out of Adela in the first story. Much of Antonia’s story revolves round the tensions caused by her decision finally to sell the family home.

Pic shuttles gracefully between the two strands, the carefully wrought script allowing the parallels to accumulate so that each becomes a commentary on the other, dealing with issues such as selfishness, greed, ambition and emotional manipulation. Beneath all of these lie the familiar themes of solitude and incommunication, here handled with rare intensity. All the drama is under the surface.

Following the explosion, Adela returns to the pueblo, her father and loneliness, while Antonia finds it’s possible to be alone even when surrounded by your family. Sense of solitude is reinforced by the fact that these are characters who are fearful of addressing their deeper concerns: the silences here — and there are many — count for as much as the words. Pic’s lack of music underscores this idea.

Around 30% of the footage is in split screen, and when the image itself isn’t technically divided, it’s done naturalistically by, say, a tree or a column. Though this effectively suggests the way characters are locked into their own spaces, it also stands in the way of any emotional heat. The stylistic quirk of characters directly addressing the camera is also distracting, and quasi-realtime takes occasionally overstay their welcome.

Thesps appear to have been allowed some improvisational leeway and thesps are superb throughout, with Martinez standout as an aging woman determined to remain gentle but wearied by having to be the familial rock. Cast are relative unknowns. Lensing is crisp and soundwork similarly clean-edged.

Solitary Fragments

Spain

Production

A Wanda Vision release of a Fresdeval Films, Wanda Vision Films, In Vitro Films production, with participation of TVE, TVC. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne). Produced by Jaime Rosales, Jose Maria Morales, Ricard Figueras. Executive producer, Maria Jose Diez. Directed by Jaime Rosales. Screenplay, Rosales, Enric Rufas.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Oscar Duran; editor, Nino Martinez; art director, Ion Arretxe; sound (Dolby SDR), Eva Valino. Reviewed at Image Film screening rooms, Madrid, April 26, 2007. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 128 MIN.

With

Sonia Almarcha, Petra Martinez, Miriam Correa, Nuria Mencia, Maria Bazan, Jesus Cracio, Luis Villanueva, Luis Bermejo, Juan Margallo, Jose Luis Torrijo, Eric Garcia.

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