In her second feature, director Celina Murga applies her sensitive, nonjudgmental eye to kids playing "Home Alone" in a gated suburban community in "A Week Alone."

In her second feature, director Celina Murga applies her sensitive, nonjudgmental eye to kids playing “Home Alone” in a gated suburban community in “A Week Alone.” As in her fine 2003 debut, “Ana and the Others,” Murga is at her best when pretty much nothing is happening but the rhythms and oddities of everyday life, and far less assured when plot-turns and incidents are imposed on a gentle master plan, co-written with producer Juan Villegas (“Saturday”). Pic reps what the world has come to vaguely expect from Argentine films, and will find willing buyers and fests in all major markets.

Confident her aud will catch up to what’s going on, Murga drops in almost midsentence on her set of pre-teens and tweens, as they habitually break into the house of a neighbor who’s off on summer vacation. Maria (Magdalena Capobianco) is oldest of group, with her mom away for the week on undisclosed business, leaving her to take care of a brood including younger sis Sofia (real-life sis Eleonora Capobianco), cousin Rodrigo (Ramiro Saludas), Facundo (Lucas Del Bo), little Quique (Federico Pena), along with neighbor kid Timmy (Mateo Braun).

At first almost unnoticed is family maid Esther (Natalia Gomez Alarcon), the only adult in sight and extremely tolerant of the kids’ shenanigans. Tykes can access seemingly any vacant living space except the parents’ room, which is locked, setting up the film’s slightly strange world in which easily bored young folks with loads of time to kill function within a set of unspoken group rules yet break other rules with impunity.

Penetrating a few layers below the loose surface mood, the lives of Maria and Sofia are observed with the same casual familiarity Murga applied with her Ana character in “Ana and the Others.”

“A Week Alone” runs into problems with the orchestrated entrance of Fernando (Gaston Luparo), a poor lad from the Entre Rios area invited by Esther, who’s a relative. Only upon Fernando’s arrival does the pic acknowledge that everyone here lives in a well-guarded, gated community, cut off from other nearby towns. Such a subtle touch is typical of Murga, and a welcome contrast to the same situation excessively staged in Rodrigo Pla’s recent Mexican thriller, “The Zone.”

But like a stage character that may as well be labeled “The Outsider,” Fernando brings out many of the worst prejudices of these more privileged kids, while never made to feel entirely comfortable at home or at play. What had been a film that didn’t press easy political and class-conscious buttons suddenly gets explicit in its dramatics; to their credit, however, once Murga and Villages deposit awkward Fernando amid the slicksters, they don’t resort to tragic or hyperdramatic consequences.

Even a potentially powder keg situation near the end doesn’t peak in histrionics, but rather a quiet acknowledgment (never spoken) that the kids crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

Perhaps Murga’s best work is with her young cast, who look like they’re allowed to simply be themselves. The pic’s mood is dominated by young thesps naturally being in the moment, with the resulting feeling being that we as the audience are spying on them.

Lenser Marcelo Lavintman and production designer Julieta Wagner make huge contributions, filling the screen with the atmosphere and creature comforts of suburban affluence. Still, it remains an oddity that Murga appears to prefer a generally washed-out, nearly overexposed look to cinematography that also typified “Ana.”

A Week Alone

Argentina

Production

A Tresmilmundos Cine presentation. Produced by Juan Villegas. Directed by Celina Murga. Screenplay, Murga, Juan Villegas.

Crew

Camera (color), Marcelo Lavintman; editor, Eliane Katz; production designer, Julieta Wagner; costume designer, Jimena Acevedo; sound (Dolby Digital), Guillermo Picco; e-recording mixer, Federico Billordo; associate producers, Pablo Casartelli, Luciana Schnir; assistant director, Nicolas Di Cocco; casting, Maria Laura Berch. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Film Festival (competing), April 16, 2008. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Natalia Gomez Alarcon, Manuel Aparicio, Mateo Braun, Eleonora Capobianco, Magdalena Capobianco, Lucas Del Bo, Ignacio Gimenez, Gaston Luparo, Federico Pena, Ramiro Saludas.

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