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Nov 17, 2008

Beyond 3 Américas



The opening image of a pan of water about to boil foretells events in América’s life (played by Kristen González): she’s a troubled teenager in the middle of a crisis. Her CD player and headphones are her best companions. Even her friends can’t fully understand her. The difficult relationship with her aunt Carolina (Gy Mirano) and the aggressive personality of her uncle Joey (Gilberto Arribas) do nothing else than turn her into a hermetic girl impossible to talk with. She shoplifts for attention but isolates herself in her bedroom. Bored, she finds a spider near her bed. She follows it with her eyes, and nudges it to move faster. Then, suddenly, she squashes it.

América needs change, but she doesn’t foresee the radical change waiting for her steps from her door in the suburbs of Boston. There, América witnesses family violence that ends in fatality. América’s new destiny is Argentina, where her reclusive anti-American grandmother Lucía (Ana María Colombo) receives her without a single smile. Lucía doesn’t speak a word of English and lives in a rundown home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

3 Américas is Cristina Kotz Cornejo’s first feature film. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and based in Boston, Cristina also teaches Film Production at Emerson College. She wrote, produced, edited and directed this film which took its first steps at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and counted with the support of NALIP, IFP and the Moving Image Fund grants from LEF Foundation. América’s story developed from a Bostonian North American tale into an international one, making its way to Argentina. The film was ready for shooting after three years of writing and polishing. Besides three Americas, this independent, low-budget film has another three compelling elements that make it worth watching.

First of all, the script is very tight, reduced to its minimum set of lines. The words are meaningful and precise. This leads directly to the second fundamental element: the acting. Although only a few standout, everyone in the film is well-casted. Kristen González (América) achieves a convincing role in her debut. Ana María Colombo (who plays Lucía), with vast experience in Argentine theatre and television, delivers a masterclass. The last element in question is the very smart use of resources. It is tempting to show Buenos Aires in full glamour, depicting its iconic tango, its many restaurants and distinctive nightlife. But Kotz Cornejo managed the temptation, taking full advantage of the budget. She set the story in the town of Ramos Mejía outside of the main city center, captivating the essence of an Argentine life that not so many know about it.

Sergio (Nicolás Meradi), a multi-functional plumber-electrician and neighbor, keeps América grounded and helps her to adapt to a new culture with its idiosyncrasies and language. In this foreign environment, everything must be fixed rather than replaced, “cartonear” (cardboard collecting and selling) is an honest job, and little things can make a difference. The relationship between América and her grandmother Lucía goes from bad to worse until Lucía suffers a stroke –a turning point– leading to an adaptation and learning process for both grandmother and grandchild. Though the story takes some time to catch our interest during Boston scenes, it fully develops in Argentina, bringing together those 3 elements. Simple doesn’t mean easy, but when it succeeds as a formula, it reveals the core of independent film. I wonder if there is a second feature in the works. If not, maybe there’s still time to enroll in one of Kotz Cornejo’s Emerson classes.

(Written for Remezcla)

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