Review: Mi Amiga del Parque (Katz, 2015) – Sundance 2016

miamigadelparque

You can get some pretty weird stuff in the Sundance World Cinema category (a blood-drinking serial murderer, a mentally-disturbed vegetarian), but Mi Amiga del Parque is just about the opposite of weird. Set in Buenos Aires, the picture depicts the life of Liz (Julieta Zylerberg), a new mother whose husband is away for months at a time as part of a documentary film crew. To meet other mothers, Liz goes to the park where parents of all types congregate with their children.

It is at the park that Liz finds Rosa (Ana Katz), who is also there with a baby girl. The two are friendly and end up grabbing a coffee together. While at the cafe, Rosa becomes fixated on the fact that Liz has a car and suggests that Liz take Rosa and her sister Renata (Maricel Álvarez) for a long trip. Taken aback by the request since they have only just met, Liz stammers a non-commital response. The encounter then takes an awkward turn when Liz, in a hurry to bring her son home to nap, gives Rosa money to pay for her portion of the meal. Rosa pockets the money, grabs Liz’s hand, and the two flee the restaurant without settling their bill. Before Liz knows it, she is running home with her baby in one direction while Rosa flees with hers in another.

From certain details–the cut of her clothes, the spaciousness of her well-appointed house, her profession as a writer–we know that Liz is affluent and educated. She also likely suffers from post-partum depression. In one scene she alternates between sobs and smiles–while checking on her baby–in the shower. In another, she notes to a friend how terrible she feels not being able to breastfeed her son. Yet, despite the very real pain of her situation, one gets the sense (in large part from one’s own experience) that Liz’s are mostly middle-/upper-class concerns.

Rosa, on the other hand, is both free-spirited and practical-minded. She works several odd jobs and seems to get by, exuding a hard scrappiness. Liz must be attracted to something in her because, despite feeling constantly challenged by Rosa’s boldness and pushiness, she keeps seeking her company, even defending her against more like-minded acquaintances she has made in the park.

But much as Liz enjoys Rosa’s company, she becomes increasingly suspicious of her, especially as her park acquaintances and her own experience show her new friend to be erratic and untrustworthy. Meanwhile, Liz’s life seems to be falling apart as she fights with her long-distance husband, her hired help abruptly quits over personality incompatibilities, and she botches a professional meeting that her playwright friend had set up.

Mi Amiga del Parque captures with breathtaking and bittersweet realism the anxiety, loneliness, and desperation a new mother experiences. Perhaps because I myself have a thirteen-month-old, the scenes–presented not without a bit of irony–resonate strongly; I laugh and cringe recognizing myself in the tormented Liz. Though the film’s protagonist, Liz is not the movie’s only rich character. Director, writer, and actress Ana Katz (who plays Rosa) creates fully-formed and believable people in Rosa and Renata, too–in fact, even the side roles remind me of people I know or have met. There is a certain efficiency in the way Katz renders her creations: a few, well-chosen details suggest a whole life.

It is therefore surprising that Mi Amiga del Parque is only Katz’s fourth feature-length film (she wrote and directed all of them and acted in three). Her trenchant observational skills, her ability to withhold judgment of her characters (even while she dares to laugh at them a little) both suggest an older and more experienced filmmaker.

Katz’s acting is formidable as well. She conveys so much in a stare, even in the slackness of her jowls. Seeing her in person for the Q&A afterwards was a revelation. Here was a woman not like Rosa at all! (Katz, by her own admission, is more like Liz.)

My only critique of the film–which will sound graver than I think it is–is that it makes no lasting imprint. When I scan my memory for Sundance 2016 impressions, it simply doesn’t pop out. I can’t think why. It’s not so much that “nothing happens”–after all, nothing much happens in the tri-part Certain Women, but it still lingers–but more that everything about Mi Amiga del Parque feels effortless–including the viewing. Does that mean I didn’t learn anything, didn’t awaken to anything, didn’t question anything?

I don’t know. A question that utterly subjective is likely unanswerable. Regardless, I’ll be looking for Katz’s films in future festivals. It’s only a matter of time before she finds the story that will make its mark.

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