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Nelson Schmunk’s ‘Entre Ríos’ Is a Lovely, Gentle Debut Feature

Nelson Schmunk's 'Entre Ríos' Is a Lovely, Gentle Debut Feature

A lovely, gentle
drama, “Entre Ríos: todo lo que no
dijimos” captures the warmth and intimacy of the home as well as some of
the frostiness between family members who keep secrets.

Nelson Schmunk’s
feature debut gets the unhurried rhythms of farm life right. He shows the
toiling in the fields, as well as the routine of preparing mate, and meals. It
is hard not to appreciate the efforts and the authenticity of the characters as
they eke out their living on a farm.

Emanuel (Javier
De Pietro) has returned to the homestead for a few days to visit his
grandmother, Catie (Frida Erbes). She still speaks German that he mostly can’t
understand. They have a close relationship, picking up again after five years
apart. Emanuel acknowledges that his grandmother Catie is dying, but he
disapproves that his mother, Ofe (Eugenia Alonso), is keeping that news secret
from Catie. He also objects to his mother’s insistance that he hide his homosexuality
from his grandmother.

As Emanuel
adapts to the slow pace of life in the country, he busies himself by finding
some old documents in the storehouse. As he reflects on his family’s life and
memories, he grows nostaligic. He also has conversations with his grandmother
about aging. These moments are further magnified by various symbols used
throughout the film—a broken down truck that is being fixed by a handy old
neighbor; the horse and buggy that signify an old-fashioned way of life; or the
pears on the farm that are spoiling. In addition, one tender scene  has Emanuel cutting his grandmother’s hair (a
literary symbol for “life change”). A subsequent scene of Catie washing her
hair is artfully done. Schmunk films Catie almost in silhouette, just below the
shoulder, fixing his camera on the action for several minutes. He exacts
incredible emotion from this simple act.

Such is the
beauty of this simple film, which features an excellent, understated
performance by Javier De Pietro. A scene of him flirting with a young man in
town shows his charming side, which is contrasted to his palpable frustration
with his mother, who insists he treat his grandmother with kid gloves.
Likewise, Emanuel’s patience with Catie is terrific; it shows the depth of
their bond, subtley, and without overemphasis.

Very little
actually happens in “Entre Ríos,” but
at the same time, there are several poignant moments. A scene in which Catie is
asked just how much she knows about her condition is quietly powerful as is a
scene in which the elderly woman gets her blood drawn in a hospital.

Schmunk does not
milk his scenes or make the relationships cloying, though the music does, at
times, tell viewers what to feel. Instead, the filmmaker allows the scenes to
play out slowly, for maximum emotional impact. Schmunk wants viewers to bathe
in the beauty of the sunset, or take in the scale of the land. His film is a
testimony to the hard work of the farmers and an appreciation of their simple
way of life.

Schmunk’s delicate approach to the story may be
why the ending is so heartrenching for the characters. Like Emanuel, viewers
come to care about Catie, and may even miss her when the film ends.

Entre Ríos: todo lo que no dijimos” screened at Chicago’s Reeling Festival this past weekend. Look for it at a festival near you.

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