A low-key portrait of a dysfunctional Patagonia family reacting to their matriarch’s death, “Mount Bayo” blends acute observation with a kookiness that’s never merely cutesy. Successfully combining simplicity and depth, pic’s strength lies in how it attends to its characters’ foibles with both wit and compassion; although it lacks the satirical bite of “Little Miss Sunshine,” with which it has much in common, it does achieve a rare air of naturalness. Pic has been well received by both crix and fests, and reps a fine calling card for Argentine helmer Victoria Galardi.
Opening sets the black-humored tone maintained throughout. In a Patagonian ski resort, matriarch Juana (Adela Gleijer) gasses herself and goes into coma, having deposited what looks suspiciously like packets of drugs under her husband’s tombstone. Juana’s daughter Marta (Adriana Barraza) is married to real-estate salesman Eduardo (Guillermo Arengo); they have two children, Lucas (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who works in a ski store, and Ines (Ines Efron), who’s obsessed with winning the local beauty contest.
Marta’s sister Mercedes (Veronica Llinas) arrives from Buenos Aires. She has financial problems she hopes will be solved by her mother’s death, particularly if Eduardo sells off some of Juana’s land in an ethically ambiguous manner. Indeed, most of the characters are interested in making some easy money, but the strong script (by helmer Galardi) doesn’t judge them adversely for it.
Thesps are exceptional, with Llinas repping a standout as a woman both self-serving and insecure. The wide-eyed, delicate-featured and all-around lovable Efron plays a similarly neurotic figure to the one she played in Galaradi’s debut (co-helmed with Martin Carranza), the less substantial “Lovely Loneliness.” Here, most of the laughs come from Ines’ conviction that having an orgasm will make her more attractive — and from her attempts to bring this about.
Otherwise, the plot proceeds quietly via nicely modulated dialogue, with the script reveling in telling details. Typical is a scene in which neighbor Eugenia (Eugenia Alonso) complains to Marta — with Marta’s mother lying comatose in the next room — that her sister is wearing the same coat Eugenia plans to wear to an upcoming party. While such an exchange adds nothing to the plot, it’s evidence that Galardi understands the egotism that makes people tick. Script is particularly good regarding the many small ways in which people continually deceive themselves, and knows that the way a person asks for and receives a cigarette can be a window into their entire character.
Aside from the particular goings-on of the family, the film reps an homage to the striking beauty of the region in which it’s set, with its wooden houses, shimmering lakes and snowy mountains — an ironically paradisiacal setting in which the people are just as flawed as they are everywhere else. Julian Ledesma’s lensing captures superbly the blue hues which tinge the chilly, sunny landscape. There are few technical flourishes, apart from a striking slo-mo centerpiece in which Mercedes signs the paper that will ease her financial pain, accompanied by Beirut’s evocative tune “Elephant Gun,” a sweeping, romantic melody that intentionally plays behind a decidedly unromantic scene.