Film Review: ‘My Friend From the Park’

Ana Katz's deceptively simple film is more of a character study than the low-boil thriller it initially promises to be.

With:
Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figo, Daniel Hendler, Andres Milicich. (Spanish dialogue)

The anxieties of a new mother are reflected in her uneasy relationship with a stroller-pushing acquaintance in “My Friend From the Park,” a deceptively simple and reflective feature from the Argentine polymath Ana Katz, who directed, co-stars and co-wrote. (She shared a Sundance special jury prize for screenwriting with her scripting partner, Ines Bortagaray.) More of a character study than the low-boil thriller it sometimes appears to be turning into, it’s the sort of film that improves significantly with post-viewing consideration, as one works one’s way back through it. Beyond festival audiences, the pic, released in Argentina last fall, has modest potential to score with arthouse crowds everywhere.

Liz (Julieta Zylberberg, in a movie-carrying performance), a writer who works in publishing, is consigned to a stretch of single-parenting while her husband (Daniel Hendler, seen in video chats) is in Chile shooting a documentary about a volcano. He has left her with their newborn son, Nicanor (Andres Milicich). Liz, still recovering from her mother’s recent death, sneaks cigarettes. She asks a doctor if her baby can sense that she’s worried. She feels inadequate because she’s unable to breastfeed, which leads to heightened tensions with a new, older nanny (Mirella Pascual) who has already proved herself a successful parent.

At the park near her apartment, Liz meets Rosa (Katz), a factory worker who is there with a newborn as well. Liz senses that something is amiss with Rosa when, as Liz prepares to exit a cafe where they’ve been eating, Rosa pockets the cash that Liz has given her and ropes her into leaving without paying. Rosa also has a sister, Renata (Maricel Alvarez), whose boyfriend is more than 100 miles away in Saladillo.

Liz’s park friend Cora (Malena Figo) warns her that the so-called “R sisters” are “not like you and me,” a statement that may be as much of a reflection of Cora and Liz’s snobbery as it is of Renata and Rosa’s craziness. The possibility is raised that Rosa is conning Liz for the use of her car, something it appears she has done before. Renata is plotting a move to Saladillo, a choice that Liz sees, for various reasons, as an abdication of responsibility — an affront to her sense of duty as a mother. Liz is also alarmed when she finds a gun in Renata’s belongings.

But if the behavior of the two sisters sometimes seems flighty or erratic, the movie is deliberate in the way it reveals events largely from Liz’s perspective, a vantage that is blind to the point of paranoia. As a director, Katz sometimes strains to achieve that limited p.o.v.; one of Rosa’s flakeouts, which leads Liz to think that Nicanor has gone missing, seems particularly cheap. But at its best, the movie shows a mature understanding of its characters’ miscommunications. Seemingly inscrutable actions come to seem, if not admirabdle, a bit more comprehensible when looked at from a different angle.

The languid, uninflected visual style and bland, widescreen digital palette at first merely seem uninspired, but they do help to create the sense of a placid surface beneath which quite a bit is going on. The score, evoking a kind of nursery ambience, is unnecessarily cute.

Film Review: 'My Friend From the Park'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 23, 2016. Running time: 86 MIN. (Original title: "Mi amiga del parque")

Production: (Argentina-Uruguay) A Campo Cine and Laura production in co-production with Mutante Cine and Sudestada Cine. (International sales: Visit Films, New York.) Produced by Nicolas Avruj, Diego Lerman, Ana Katz, Agustina Chiarino, Fernando Epstein, Ignacio Rey, Gaston Rothschild. Executive producer, Avruj.

Crew: Directed by Ana Katz. Written by Katz, Ines Bortagaray. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Guillermo Nieto; editor, Andres Tambornino; music, Maximiliano Silveira; art director, Eugenia Sueiro; costume designer, Roberta Pesci; sound, Julian Catz, Jesica Suarez; assistant director, Adriana Vior.

With: Julieta Zylberberg, Ana Katz, Maricel Alvarez, Mirella Pascual, Malena Figo, Daniel Hendler, Andres Milicich. (Spanish dialogue)

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