A Decent Woman: The end of the oasis
by David González
- Austrian director Lukas Valenta Rinner returns to Argentina for this sharp and startling satire that toys with the standards (and absurdities) of bourgeois society
A woman shows up for an interview for a job as a maid in a luxurious home, set within a gated community in a suburb of Buenos Aires occupied by upper class families - “respectable people”. But on the other side of the fence there is another community, with a radically different perspective on life: a group of nudists who have discarded conventional societal notions of class (and, above all, respectability) to embrace mental and sexual liberation in communion with nature. As we might have foreseen, the woman soon finds herself gravitating towards the allure of this oasis.
This is the premise of the new film from Argentina-based Austrian director, Lukas Valenta Rinner. A Decent Woman [+see also:
interview: Lukas Valenta Rinner
film profile], enjoying its world premiere in the official competition of the 22nd Sarajevo Film Festival, is an unusual take on the collision between two ways of life that seem entirely at odds. Belén (the heroine of the story; a stoical Iride Mockert) works for a family engrossed in its own little world, dominated by the mother’s materialistic selfishness (Andrea Strenitz) and the son’s obsession with becoming a professional tennis player (portrayed by film director Martin Shanly). A stone’s throw away, the members of the “family” that eventually adopt Belén as their own spend their days swimming in the pool, reciting poetry, walking through the woods and engaging in group sex (sometimes tantric, sometimes not so much). The contrast between the two communities is conveyed indirectly, through Belén’s dumbfounded expression. Our protagonist passes from one world to the other while barely uttering a word (other than the “of course” with which she responds to any verbal interaction in the upscale neighbourhood - including the romance she strikes up with one of the security guards) and betraying no sign of emotion (until the nudist club party, when she finally manages to crack a smile).
It is precisely Belén’s undisguised astonishment that governs Valenta Rinner’s approach to his story. With its convincing mise en scène, punctuated by static shots and symmetrical compositions (with an inspired nod, in the scene where Belén bares all for the first time, to Botticelli's Venus), its deliberate, unhurried editing style and the occasional burst of frantic percussion, A Decent Woman displays an intriguing originality reminiscent of the Greek New Wave. The film is propelled by a generous twist of deadpan humour, which defines the relationship between Belén and the security guard and peaks with a hilarious sequence where the nudists are caricatured as animals. However, the underlying screenplay (written by Rinner and Shanly with Ana Godoy and Ariel Gurevich), arbitrarily eschews dialogue and depth of story to the point that the viewer is left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. The film, seized throughout by a kind of narrative numbness, waits until its radical and startling final climax before getting to grips with a real confrontation between the various elements of the story - brought about by a petition to shut down the nudist community, a (possibly) accidental death and Belén’s decision to defend at any cost the oasis where she finally found her smile.
A bold co-production between Austria (Nabis Filmgroup), Argentina and South Korea, A Decent Woman takes up a similar theme to Rinner’s earlier work, Parabellum [+see also:
interview: Lukas Valenta Rinner
film profile]: an explosive shattering of society’s accepted norms, and the customary rules of human relationships, through extreme situations which, while they may fall short of the Parabellum’s apocalyptic extremes, are really not all that far off.
(Translated from Spanish)