The Idea of a Lake: The pain of loss
by Giorgia Del Don
- LOCARNO 2016: Five years after Back to Stay, Milagros Mumenthaler, winner of the Golden Leopard, returns to Locarno with this dreamlike family drama
Once again, the central theme of Swiss-Argentine director Milagros Mumenthaler’s latest film, The Idea of a Lake [+see also:
interview: Milagros Mumenthaler
film profile], presented in the official competition of the 69th Locarno International Film Festival, is a return to the family - that imperfect foundation on which we construct our own individual identities; a fragile shelter in times of storm.
Before the arrival of her first-born child, photographer Inés (a magnificent Carla Crespo) is determined to finally finish her latest book. The project centres around her memories of her childhood, and especially of the family home in southern Argentina (whose landscapes, lavish with lakes and mountains, are astonishingly reminiscent of Switzerland) where she spent the greater part of her summers as a child. Although this place holds mainly happy and carefree memories for Inés, it seems heavy with nostalgia and misunderstanding. It is in fact here that the last photograph of herself and her father was taken, before he mysteriously disappeared like so many, too many, other victims of Argentina’s military dictatorship. Although it is Inés who is the driving force of the film, breathing life into the story and allowing it to unfold in its own free and instinctual way, her brother and mother lend completeness to her character; giving it a grounded quality that is both frustrating and indispensable. Together, they must confront one last ordeal: providing blood samples to forensic pathologists so that, perhaps, the body of their father and husband might finally be identified. But will a skeleton be capable of filling the profound void that lingers inside Inés?
Like a never-ending puzzle, The Idea of a Lake offers us myriad small fragments of an indeterminate reality, formed out of memory, sensation, fantasy and hope. The film leaves the viewer to piece together the contours of the narrative, accompanied by the characters who gradually reveal their stories, or rather, the stories that bind them inextricably together. The narrative of the film is not linear but glides seemingly at random through the expanse of Inés’s memories - from the lake house to her apartment in the city; from her childhood to her impending motherhood. It is as if no time had ever really passed; as if life, instead of marching heedlessly onwards, were built upon unending spirals from which we break away only to return. Inés’s life, driven by her visceral need to fill the painful abyss inside herself, seems to burst and spill over into a thousand different directions, some real, others only imagined. It is as if, in order to survive, she must find the key to her father’s disappearance in her own imagination, creating a world in which everything is possible; a kind of sticking plaster to cover a wound too deep to heal. The Idea of a Lake is a film about intimacy, invoking physical sensation as a means of vividly conveying the immense efforts demanded of those left behind, and seeking to add colour to an everyday existence that at first seems bland and grey. Thus the film’s colourful screenplay, almost baroque in its outlines (even, in some places, Almadovarian) is in great contrast to the seriousness of its subject matter, reminding us that imagination can serve as an antidote to desperation and obscurity. Although biographical references, and memories of an idyllic childhood associated with Argentina, are tangible throughout, it is not through the storytelling itself that Milagros Mumenthaler’s identity as a director comes through most strongly, but through sensation and the sheer corporeality of the performances. Once again, she manages to speak to us with utter sincerity of the complex inner life of a woman in today’s world.
(Translated from Italian)