An emergency nighttime visit to the hospital to patch up two rowdy kid brothers suddenly calls their mother’s parental aptitude into question in the high-strung Argentinean drama “It’s Your Fault.” Minimalist third feature by director Anahi Berneri (“A Year Without Love”) is helmed with acuity and features a high-wire, arguably career-best performance by thesp Erica Rivas. But its austere look, endless whining and crying of the kids on the soundtrack, and relentlessly bleak tone mean this hard-to-sell arthouse item will need all the critical support it can get.
First 30 minutes, shown almost in real time, rep a verite-style entry into the life of young mother Julieta (Rivas), who tries to finish a report at home late at night. Her offspring, 8-year-old Valentin (Nicasio Galan) and his younger brother, Teo (Zenon Galan), are not yet in bed, and do everything in their power to make Julieta’s task impossible. The kids’ constant demands for attention are as tiring for the audience as they are for Julia, with ace d.p. Willi Behnisch’s cramped shots heightening the general feel of claustrophobia.
When young Teo falls from a bed during a fight with Valentin, Julieta worries he might have seriously hurt himself, and she takes him and his brother to the nearest hospital. Her hubby, Guillermo (Ruben Viani), is on his way back from a business trip and only arrives later.
The scenes at the clinic, with its empty corridors and unnatural calm, feel like a relief from the audiovisual assault of the scenes at home, but the slower editing rhythms and wider shots soon prove deceptive. The pediatrician on duty (Omar Nunez) identifies a number of bruises and cuts on both kids, and after a contradictory explanation of what happened, suspicion falls on Julieta.
Auds looking to play the blame game will feel frustrated by this pic, in which Berneri explores questions of parental responsibility, contempo child-rearing and family dynamics that have no real answers. Rivas’ carefully controlled perf is both instantly readable and absolutely impenetrable, making it clear Julieta has issues, but never quite letting on to what extent she may be or have been a bad mother.
As in Berneri’s previous films, there’s a sense that the protag is straitjacketed by the expectations of those around her, and that the role she is assigned by others might not necessarily fit with who she really is. Though Julieta clearly loves her children, it’s not a given that she’s a natural mother, or that that could be the only thing that she is.
Filmed with a Red-One camera in clean, carefully composed shots and with exemplary use of sound, the pic further confirms Berneri as a talent to watch.