Celina Murga has found herself quite the godfather in Martin Scorsese, who has been mentoring her over the past few years - but don't expect the Argentine director to follow closely in the footsteps of her mentor. Her taste runs more to oblique, tense moodpieces about teenagers at a crossroads, as shown again in The Third Side of the River, her third feature, a diffuse tale of a young man and his uneasy relationship with his family.
Instead of being attentive to his teenage son Nicolás (Alián Devetac) really is, father Jorge (Daniel Veronese) seems more interested in trying to shape him in his own image - making this really a coming-of-age story about a boy rebelling against his elders and the path that has been planned out for him. The signals of a dysfunctional family are all dutifully lined up throughout, though their explanation is slightly different than expected: the initial suggestion is Nicolás is the eldest child in a divorced family, but in fact Jorge is still living with his legal wife and son, and Nicolás and his two younger siblings are the recognised offspring of a parallel relationship.
Even so, Ms. Murga's quietly observational camera and the dutiful, distanced feel we feel in her movies suggest the exact nature of the issues why her work can neither be dismissed nor passionately defended. Though The Third Side of the River is a sensitive and smart film about the confusion and the passion that rages inside a young man ill at ease with his life who resents his father for thinking money solves everything, it never matches that passion in its engagement with the subject. The result is that, halfway through, The Third Side of the River begins to feel schematic, predictable, unable to free itself from a series of auteurist clichés generally connected to coming-of-age tales and to modern Latin American cinema.
It's a shame, really, because the director's attention both to characters and environment, and her way with mood and disquiet, deserves more than to be reduced to a series of neatly defined formulas. But The Third Side of the River remains simmering for most of its length, not even breaking into a boil when Nicolás' displeasure with his life runs over the brim.
LA TERCERA ORILLA
Argentina, Germany, Netherlands 2013
Cast Alián Davatac, Daniel Veronese
Director Celina Murga; screenwriters Gabriel Medina and Ms. Murga; cinematographer Diego Poleri (colour, widescreen); art director Sebastián Roser; costumes Paola Delgado; editor Eliane M. Katz; producers Juan Villegas and Ms. Murga; production company Tresmilmundos Cine in co-production with Rommel Film, Waterland Film and ZDF/ARTE
Screened February 12th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening)