Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tribeca ’09: The Fish Child

A judge tells his young maid Ailin she is part of the family, but is it a blessing or a burden to be welcomed into his thoroughly dysfunctional family? What starts as a story of forbidden love becomes a tale of murder and corruption in Argentine director Lucia Puenzo’s The Fish Child (trailer here), a dark lesbian-themed film which screens during the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.

For years, his daughter Lala and Ailin have been in love, dreaming of running away together to the maid’s native Paraguay, but she has also attracted the attentions of the less than upstanding judge. Rumored to be involved with crooked politicians, the judge is writing his memoirs, to the alarm of many powerful people. Despite his more pressing concerns, he is still tempted by the presence of Ailin, much to Lala’s concern. However, just as the two young women are poised to make their getaway, a night of madness threatens to separate them forever.

A confused Lala eventually finds herself alone in Ailin’s Paraguayan village. There she learns Ailin had secrets she never revealed that gave special significance to the legend of the Fish Child, a mythical being said to live at the bottom of Lake Ypoá, which she often told her young lover.

Based on Puenzo’s own novel, Fish is a deliberately murky film noir that keeps the audience off-balance from start to finish. Its view of humanity is starkly jaundiced, allowing little sympathy even for the protagonist lovers. While their characters might lack in likability, the cast of Fish is quite strong. Inés Efron is very compelling as the desperately love-struck Lala, conveying both a child-like innocence and a disturbing propensity for destructive behavior. Pep Munné gives an equally unsettling performance as the judge, convincingly portraying his reassuring family man facade, while hinting at the less savory instincts which lurk beneath.

Fish is most definitely not for everyone. While never gratuitously explicit, it is most certainly adult in its sensibilities, painting an uncompromisingly naturalistic portrait of humanity. However, it is a surprisingly powerful drama that evolves into an effective film noir thriller. It screens as part of the Tribeca Film Festival on April 27th, 28th, 29th and May 2nd.