Does the world need a more static, Latin American Josephine Decker? For those answering in the affirmative, Dominga Sotomayor’s shift into Joe Swanberg territory, following her emotionally and stylistically richer debut, “Thursday Till Sunday,” will generate kudos. The rest will be underwhelmed by her improvisational sophomore feature, “Mar,” a slight (in all senses) work about a lackluster couple on a seaside holiday and the disruption that follows when the guy’s mother arrives. Developed on the fly and shot in a distancing, perversely framed style, the pic will do significantly less biz than Sotomayor’s first movie.
Martin (Lisandro Rodriguez) and Eli (Vanina Montes) drive to the Argentinean beach town of Villa Gesell in his mother’s car, realizing too late that the car’s papers were left back home. The couple have no enthusiasm for the holiday or each other, and Eli’s prepared to go home early, but it’s complicated getting back to Buenos Aires. Martin’s overbearing mother (Andrea Strenitz) arrives bringing the documents and stays longer than wanted, blabbering inappropriately while getting smashed.
A deadly lightning strike in the community shakes them up a bit, but that’s the only thing even remotely approaching a bolt of energy in this anemic drama. If Sotomayor is trying to make a statement about thirtysomethings in limbo, then she succeeds in capturing their dull formlessness yet fails to say anything else, and their absence of charm makes the hourlong pic a tedious experience.
Not only the script but the whole concept was done more or less via improv (the lightning strike actually happened locally and was incorporated into the plot), with the actors contributing much of the dialogue. It may sound real, but it’s not the sort of thing that makes for involving viewing, and one’s interest in the main couple never takes off. Fortunately, the mother provides some much-needed oomph, yet what’s meant to be slice-of-life filmmaking instead has the depth of tissue paper.
Seemingly influenced by a certain brand of American indie aesthetic, Sotomayor sticks to ebbing natural light and lensing that cuts or obscures characters: A tightly shot scene on the beach has Eli on the left, her head partly out of frame, with Martin on the right under a flapping sun umbrella that obstructs his face. The purpose? Who knows.