Opening with immaculately composed shots of children leaping off an A-framed platform to the swimming pool below, Gastón Solnicki’s rapturous experimental narrative “Kékszakállú” settles on a little girl who tries to will herself off the diving board. She peers over the edge, steels herself, and retreats, eager to take the plunge but uncertain about what will happen once she does. For Solnicki, this is the prevailing metaphor of the entire feature, which follows a series of thinly connected girls and young women as they step tentatively into the wider world. And for viewers, it’s a primer for Solnicki’s abstract approach to their liminal state: a focus on faces and architecture, an emphasis on the cocoon of privilege, the occasional burst of music to suggest their turbulent inner lives. There’s a limited market for the Argentinean helmer’s delicate 72-minute bauble, but festivals and more adventurous venues will want to dive right in.
The title “Kékszakállú” comes from the Hungarian title of Bela Bartok’s opera “Bluebeard’s Castle,” though it takes some squinting to find the thematic connection between Charles Perrault’s original folktale about a murderous nobleman and the events that unfold in Solnicki’s film. The one common thread is a woman’s curiosity in the face of danger: Just as Bluebeard’s wife uses his keys to unlock the dreadful secrets in his chateau, the young women in “Kékszakállú” are taking tentative steps into foreign terrain. Solnicki doesn’t develop any of them in a conventional sense, but they each participate in various rites of passage, inching toward maturity and the possibilities and disappointments that go along with that.
Solnicki and his cinematographers, Diego Poleri and Fernando Lockett, evoke the cloistered lives of the young and beautiful, who seem to take scant pleasure from the permanent vacation of their surroundings — the stone swimming pools, the sun-dappled countryside, the Mercedes in the garage. We see one of them pack up and move to an apartment in the big city, where the refrigerator is empty. We see another head off to school, with no real indication of what she might want to do there. We see the insides of factories, where workers sew garments, mix dyes for fabrics, or watch styrofoam wedges spit out the end of the line. There’s the sense that these characters, in making this dramatic transition, are trading one form of discontentment for another.
To a degree, there’s something absurd about the grandiose portent of “Kékszakállú,” like Solnicki cranking up the Bartok to underscore a college kid who can’t figure out her major in trade school. But then, it seems less absurd when you consider how consequential such matters are for a young person who’s trying to shake the ennui that defines her life. Yet despite these operatic flourishes, the overall feel of “Kékszakállú” is inviting and approachable, a pleasantly intuitive trip through changing times. It takes an uncommon talent to keep the mundane from seeming inert, and through Solnicki’s lens, the absence of outer conflict doesn’t mute the turmoil within. His subjects are not satisfied with the world they’re leaving and the one they’re growing into, and his film animates their dilemma like few others can.