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Half of Oscar (La mitad de Oscar)

The windswept beaches and mountains of Almeria are located on the Mediterranean in the southern province of Andalucia, Spain. It’s a city that is rarely portrayed in Spanish cinema, but one that Manuel Martín Cuenca uses as a central character in his second feature, “Half of Oscar.” It provides the ideal space to contemplate the complicated relationship between Oscar (Rodrigo Sáenz de Heredia) and his sister Maria (Verónica Echegui).

Oscar works as a security guard at a semi-abandoned salt mine. His lonely days consist of riding his bike to work, putting on his uniform and his gun and contemplating the mountains of salt.

Oscar’s routine is interrupted when his aging grandfather is moved from a home to the hospital and Oscar discovers that his sister, Maria, whom he hasn’t heard from in two years, will be coming to Almeria. To his bewilderment she arrives pregnant and with a boyfriend, Jean (Dennis Deyri). The tension between brother and sister is silent but palpable. Maria does not want to get too close, but Oscar is determined to plumb the situation for more information.

Martín Cuenca’s use of the unique environment of Almeria is one of the most accomplished elements in the film. The film’s spirit is distilled in a memorable scene where Maria walks ahead of Oscar and Jean on the beach. There, alone with the wind and the landscape, we feel how Maria’s acute desire for freedom is undermined by fear.

An exploration of familial taboos, Martín Cuenca’s quiet and austere feature delves into the deepest regions of the human soul. Unadorned with music, the soundscape is comprised of the natural ambiance of the landscape, which becomes as integral to the film as the visuals. Silence and subtext speak volumes in this poignant film about impossible loves. [Synopsis by Diana Sanchez/Toronto International Film Festival]