First-time director Eugenio Canevari makes his entry to the festival scene with Paula, an hour-long meditation on the social and economic inequalities in his country. Set in Argentina’s agricultural heartland, the film makes its point subtly and succinctly.
Paula (Dennise Labbate) is the nanny of a middle-class family. The father runs a farm, which is having trouble with its soya crops. Paula herself is in trouble. She is pregnant – we never learn the father’s identity – and no one is willing to really help. Labbate pitches Paula like a grown up child – uneasy with herself, struggling to ask confidently for what she needs – yet also resourceful and resilient.
Yet and again she comes up against societal barriers. It is seen as unacceptable for her to be pregnant; Abortions cost money that she doesn’t have; her friend (possibly her lover) Berna is indifferent, seemingly blaming her for the situation. She isn’t comfortable talking to her employers: one is disdainful, the other guilty of sexual harassment. Only the children she cares for treat her well, and with complete innocence.
Everything is shot carefully and unconventionally – Canevari focuses on body parts rather than faces, and moves his camera very little, letting his actors instead be constrained by his frame. The cinematography is solid – narrow and textured close-ups are shuffled with wide fields, forests, and beautiful skies. Nearly everything is shot outdoors.
The director is apt at showing the irony of his main character’s situation – her struggles are overlaid with her employers complaining about their progeny. They enjoy having children – seemingly as a status symbol, but not having them around. The final scene, a twenty-minute party sequence, is a succinct snapshot of where Canevari takes issue with the Argentine middle class. It’s ruthless and feels very real.