An aging actress’ faltering efforts to prop up her fading career and her weekend sojourn to the countryside provide rising Argentine filmmaker Anahi Berneri with much to reflect upon in the subtly conceived “Encarnacion.” Though certainly less radical and socially worlds apart from her fascinating debut, “A Year Without Love,” new pic is a cogent, almost intuitive study of female self-identity and body perception, and would be inconceivable without star Silvia Perez. Fest travels will take the film far and wide, though buyers may balk at the film’s deliberate understatement.
Conceived as a comedy before filming, final work (with credits for no less than four screenwriters, including critic and Buenos Aires festival programmer Sergio Wolf) shows how a funny scenario can be altered into an intriguing story about a woman’s passage from youthful beauty into an older, possibly wiser person.
The mask of youth is an essential aspect of thesp and former glamour puss Encarncion Levier (Perez), who’s called Erni and maintains the figure of — and dresses like — a twentysomething femme at 48 years old, but whose excessively tanned skin reveals aging beyond her actual years.
This physical complexity is at the heart of the film, as Berneri’s camera (with an exquisite contribution by ace lenser Diego Poleri) trains on Erni’s body and skin, to the degree where the profile of Erni is also essentially wrapped up in Perez herself, who was also once a high-profile performer on Buenos Aires’ commercial theater row, with its emphasis on va-va-va-voom female stars.
Erni is a woman who’s never less than made up and prepared to make an impression, but she always seems like an outsider looking in.
With generally few words, pic infers the essence of Erni’s fall from some sort of former fame without weighty emphasis. The fact that she lives on Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ equivalent to Broadway — with giant marquees visible through her windows and seeming to mock her — is important to both who she was and who she still would like to be.
Pic is at first something like “Erni’s Sex and the City,” observing her casual love life with Jorge (Fabian Arenillas) and various odd jobs (like a commercial where she strips to a small bikini), but it’s actually when Erni busses from the city to farming town of Las Flores to see niece Ana (Martina Juncadella) that the film enters its main phase.
Here, in a sleepy corner of the plains, Erni settles in at a small, slightly run-down resort hotel managed by overly eager Roberto (Luciano Caceres), and spends time sunning and swimming with her beloved Ana, who obviously gets a thrill out of having her exotic aunt in from the big city.
Along with the loss of potentially lighter comedy from the situation is the welcome absence of melodrama, with just enough time allowed to suggest friction, and even spite, between Erni and sister Dora (Ines Saavedra). This, plus some short-lived tension between Erni and Ana concerning Roberto.
Some of what happens here indicates what Lucrecia Martel’s landmark debut, “La Cienega,” might have been with more conventional dramatic flourishes.
In her feature-starring debut, vet Perez’ graceful portrayal contains Erni’s several contradictory qualities, from self-absorption to unaffected giving. Juncadella and Arenillas are warmly human as the two people who give Erni the time of day. Tech credits, and use of vivid urban and rural locales, are aces.