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50th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Wednesday, May 9, 2007
8:50 p.m. Agua
Verónica Chen (Argentina/France, 2006)

Can one man's collapse trigger another man's salvation? One possible response unfolds in Verónica Chen's impressionistic venture into the vagaries of identity, fate, and free will. This sophomore effort, following the nocturnal wanderings of Smokers Only (SFIFF 2002), demonstrates a visual and narrative sophistication indicative of a rapidly evolving auteur. The silent opening scenes take place in an unearthly, desolate Argentine desert landscape in which a man tangles with a thorny cactus to retrieve its succulent flesh; his isolation and physical dehydration signify spiritual thirst. During his prolonged drive back to civilization, the hypnotic pattern of the highway's broken dividing line, intercut with the solid black line at the bottom of a pool that keeps a swimmer on course, serve as the convergence points for the two main characters: Goyo, a once-discredited contestant of the grueling 35-mile Santa Fe–Coronda River marathon, and Chino, a long-distance indoor swimmer with a pregnant girlfriend, Luisa. The protagonists connect to life through swimming, and Chen sensually focuses on their rituals of preparation for the pool as they shave their bodies and strip down to sleek swimsuits. Chen tracks the submerged swimmers with exceptional camerawork and immersive sound effects. After Chino fails to make the national team, a character says of him, "Out of water, he gasps." And because of his aggressive competitiveness, Goyo is known as "the river shark." Water, especially the ominous, serpentine jungle river, interweaves the destinies of these men in profound and surprising ways. "How do you cross the bridge to the real world?" Chino contemplates. Agua is a meditation on living in the present rather than in one's past glories or grievances, or in future promise.

—Cathleen Rountree

• Written by Chen, Pablo Lago. Photographed by Sabine Lancelin, Matías Mesa. With Rafael Ferro, Nicolás Mateo, Gloria Carrá, Leonora Balcarce. (89 mins)