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Foreign Film Friday/East End Film Festival: Tigre review - Argentinian drama ties itself in knots

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Tigre is an uninteresting film, save for a remarkable talent in diluting an interesting setting with mediocre, familiar ideas.

It seems fair to dismiss new, debuting directors because they aim high and hit extremely low. That might be a little harsh, but if directors Ulises Porra and Silvina Schnicer are prepared to make a movie that tries to get anywhere close to their majesties Claire Denis and Francis Ford Coppola, then they should be prepared for backlash should they fail, which they have.

That setting is the Argentinian Tigre delta. A dense jungle, alive with disquieting ambience; a strange air moves between the plant-life there. It’s the same that the aforementioned Coppola found in the Vietnamese river in Apocalypse Now (1979), or James Gray uncovered in The Lost City of Z (2016). As one character notes early on, promising a far more breath-taking affair than what occurs, “People get weird when the water gets high.” Within the delta, a small group all live together in a riverside house. Though few of the characters are given enough personality to register properly, the caricatures that set those predictable ideas in motion are all there.

First, there is the flawed matriarch, Rina, in a commendable role for Marilú Marini. Her adult son, Facundo, is also inexplicably present, and Agustín Rittano’s performance in the role does little to redeem the flat character. Supposedly traumatised by his mother’s abusive parenting, Rittano lacks the depth or the onscreen time (the latter of which is no fault of his own) to grasp the undercurrents in his character.

It doesn’t help that his storyline, a watered-down, hilariously overwrought “Let go of this old house” tale, is in direct combat for space in the script with that of Rina’s friend Elena (a fine piece of acting from María Ucedo), whose daughter Sabrina (Magalí Fernandez) comes to visit with friends Meli (Ornella D’Elia) and Estebán (Tomás Raimondi). The three friends appear to be experiencing their own teenage fantasy in the strange wilderness of the delta, and the way Porra and Schnicer capture their young bodies goes for the same evocative sensuality of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999). But unlike Denis’ stunning picture, it doesn’t land in the slightest. There simply isn’t any strong narrative reason for it.

At the same time, a group of children have formed a miniature tribe around a young girl, who “rules” them from a lofty boathouse. Her tribe takes part in rituals that mostly involve guttural noises and sellotape being stretched over their bodies. Again, teenage fantasy creeps into their storyline, but the directors cannot hold that theme down either.

If all these storylines feel awkwardly conceived all together, it’s because that is apparently the point. Porra and Schnicer reportedly said at Toronto, where this film had its premiere, that the storylines were all separate ideas brought together for Tigre. That approach to storytelling can work, but it requires clarity. Tigre has none, and joins an entire group of films whose post-modernism overrides and suffocates the narrative. Post-modernism is a valuable artistic attitude, but it becomes poorly applied here as the directors struggle to weave their stories together. What is the point of Tigre? Because if it is to prove that one’s mind can be fragile when nature tries to pull it apart, the novices should leave it to the heavyweights.

Tigre will have its UK premiere at the East End Film Festival. Find more information on the festival and the screening here.





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