Exploring the lives of a young couple as they are set to buy their first house, Argentinean director Juan Schnitman`s latest film El Incendio is a tense exploration into what really goes on behind closed doors in the decaying relationship between the pair.
Told over the course of twenty-four hours, El Incendio begins with what should be a joyous occasion as the couple prepare to sign the deeds for their new apartment. From the onset however, it is clear that everything is not rainbows and butterflies, and friction between the two runs rife as they prepare to deliver the money and begin their new life. When the lawyer calls to delay the deal until the following morning however, things begin to unravel at an astonishing speed, questioning the love they thought that they had shared.
Juan Barberini (Camino de Campana, Vidrios) stars as Marcelo, a young teacher under investigation for lashing out at a student, probably a side effect of his tempestuous relationship at home with multi award-winning Pilar Gamboa (What I Love the Most, Cowboy) `s apathetic, possibly tuberculosis-ridden chef Lucia. The chemistry between the pair is electric in its awkwardness; although at no time do we really find out what has happened to leave the pair in their doldrums, Barberini and Gamboa manage to express just the right blend of adoration and hatred that has developed over the many years of this rocky partnership.
As the following day unfolds, our protagonists have to deal with meetings with the school board, prospects of terminal disease, birthday parties and numerous other obstacles all leading up to possibly the most uncomfortable to watch sex scene ever caught on film. Indeed, so much happens over the course of the film`s twenty-four hours that it does at times become rather implausible. Given the abundance of events going on, it is somewhat surprising that at the same time it often feels like absolutely nothing is happening in the film`s narrative. This may have been a conscious choice by Schnitman, but it comes across as clunky scripting hampering the pace of the story.
Stylistically, Schnitman tends towards the Spartan, with a range of gritty and purposefully lifeless set-pieces, from the boxed and box-like apartment, representing the claustrophobia felt by the lovers, to imprisoning offices and the windowless kitchen of Lucia`s restaurant. There is a real sense of choking and oppression wherever our characters find themselves, made even more intense by the noticeable lack of any music throughout the film, meaning every breath, every nuance is shared between the actors and the audience. A fantastic artistic choice from Schnitman.
Although slow at times, El Incendio is a wonderfully character-driven exploration into a failed relationship. Solid performances from its leading pair, it is a showcase of Argentinean talent, and certainly a promise a good things to come.
Dir: Juan Schnitman
Scr: Agustina Liendo
Starring: Pilar Gamboa, Juan Barberini
Prd: Fernando Brom, Diego Dubcovsky, Barbara Francisco
DOP: Soledad Rodriguez
Run time: 95mins
El Incendio screens at the East End Film Festival on 8 July 2015 Followed by a Q&A.
Tickets available from the Hackney Picturehouse website here.