Puzzle a delightful and subtle portrait
by Bénédicte Prot
19/02/2010 - The beauty of "New Argentine Cinema" often involves a delicate attention to detail and Natalia Smirnoff’s Puzzle [trailer], co-produced by France’s Las Ninas Pictures and backed by Fonds Sud Cinéma, is a prime example, not only using this approach but also thematising it right down to its title.
The opening scene is significant: we watch, in extreme close-up (a very appropriate filming style that is used throughout) a mother and housewife carefully preparing a birthday meal, like a true Mrs. Dalloway. Then, while everyone is enjoying themselves, we see her picking up, one by one, the pieces of a plate she has dropped, eliciting a gently mocking smile from her husband. It’s only when she brings in the cake that we realise it’s her birthday that is being celebrated.
Puzzle takes a tender, and for once exclusive look (only recounting the rest of the family’s activities in irrelevant fragments), at the woman and mother, who is always sacrificing herself without anyone noticing and is even entirely defined by this instinct for helping and nurturing, to the point where she has neck ache from bending over meals prepared for others.
One of her birthday presents, which she discovers alone after the party, nonetheless enables her to break away from this daily routine of feminine attentiveness by opening the door to a wonderful world of images and beautiful colours (accompanied by a dreamy percussion score) which she starts to passionately piece together, bit by bit, eventually enrolling in a competition, along with a partner who shares her meticulousness.
When her family, who are loving but generally uninterested in what matters to her, notice this new pastime, first her husband accuses her of wasting time (even though he himself enjoys a quiet day of fishing and tai-chi) because while he is kind, he finds it difficult to take an interest in what interests her, a common fault in the male sex, and doesn’t like not finding his favourite food in the fridge.
However, her family gradually start to take more of an interest in their mother and each other ("this evening, we’re going to cook", her son announces to her on the phone), as is shown in the vibrant scene where they all start dancing spontaneously. Little by little, the heroine (played by an immensely sensitive and understated Maria Onetto) experiences a liberation: she dares to get angry, ask for a favour, think about herself a little, for her desire is, quite simply, as Smirnoff points out, "to find her place in her own home". In any case, Puzzle has certainly found its place in the Berlin competition.
(Translated from French)