Movie Review: Medianeras

Medianeras (M) 3.5 stars

Javier Drolas, Pilar Lopez de Ayala

Director Gustavo Taretto

You’ll like this if you liked look Both Ways, 500 Days of Summer, the films of Miranda July

Early on in this inventive, charmingly oddball romance from first-time Argentine writer-director Gustavo Taretto, the multi-phobic Martin lays out his urban survival kit. it is a backpack full of essentials, without which he will not leave his apartment, something he rarely does anyway.

Among the basics are an array of pills, a Leica camera (10 megapixels), plastic raincoat, sunglasses, torch with extra batteries, condoms (three units), a 60 gig iPod with 8000 songs, a card with instructions on what to do in case of accident or panic attack and three films by Jacques Tati.

I doubt if a Tati DVD would help if Martin found himself pinned under a bus or trapped in a lift. However, it certainly gives us a clue to what Taretto considers the key to his cinematic survival.

Taretto has a sensibly ambiguous relationship to technology and to modern life in general, acknowledging its appeal but realising that it leads to disconnection, alienation and loneliness.

In the same way that the American tourists visiting France in Tati’s masterpiece, Playtime, only get to see the old Paris as reflections in windows, Taretto’s star-crossed lovers Martin (Javier Drolas) and Mariana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala) experience the world mediated through their computers and their phones.

Indeed, webpage designer Martin and window dresser Mariana don’t even get together until late in the movie, even though this pair of attractive hipster agoraphobics are clearly perfect for each other (they probably use the same brand of anti-anxiety medication) and live in similar shoebox-sized apartments in anonymous concrete blocks across from each other in skyscraper-saturated Buenos Aires.

In fact, the dehumanising cityscape, with its brutalist, mismatched buildings, strangulating power lines and ugly billboards, is the real villain of Medianeras, which translates as “sidewalls”, a reference to the sides of apartment blocks which owners sell off to advertisers rather than supply tenants with windows.

While the meeting of Martin and Mariana is tantalisingly and cleverly delayed, Taretto digs so deeply into their lonely lives – their peculiarities, their fixations, their failed attempts to forge relationships – that nothing more need be said when they finally lock eyes and lips.

Using devices that have become de rigueur in indie movies, such as lists of likes and dislikes with a montage of images, animated inserts and documentary-style asides, Taretto shoots for a look and feel in sync with the mentality of the Facebook generation.

Some will find these techniques and the maddeningly narcissistic should-be lovers too self-consciously idiosyncratic.

What prevents Taretto’s movie from being overwhelmed by quirk is the richness and depth of his insights into the impact of technology which, observes Mariana, promises to connect us all but has resulted in millions like her staring at screens rather than truly communicating.

And there are a couple of lovely sequences that would have been applauded by the great Tati, in which both nature and human-scaled Buenos Aires rise up through the cracks of the soulless metropolis, providing a sense of hope amid the despair and melancholy.

Sweetly acted by its two very appealing stars (again they keep a lid on the cutes by actually looking unhappy rather than pretending to be miserable) and smartly pieced together from a dazzling array of images, Medianeras both celebrates and questions the allure of connected modern life, which is what we should all be doing.

Medianeras is on at the Somerville Auditorium each night at 7.30 until Sunday and then at Joondalup Pines.

Movie Review: Medianeras

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