Academy Assignment: Women Make Film Episode 1
La Ciénaga (2001)
This week, Classic Couple Academy dove into Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga (2001) through the lens of openings and tone. The preview of the opening in the Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema documentary piqued interest, and the film itself did not disappoint. Thoughts on this week’s Academy Assignment below.
How would you describe the technique used by the director in the film’s opening?
Martel begins the film with closeups of a summer drinks party by a pool. Used glasses sloshed with wine, sweaty with ice are a focal point. Middle-aged paunch rolls over swim trunks and orange peel cellulite peaks out of maillots as party-goers scrape their sun chairs across the concrete patio. Before seeing the characters’ faces, the tone is set. This is no swanky affair. It’s a drunken attempt at respite from the summer’s sweltering heat.
How would you characterize the film’s tone?
La Ciénaga translates to the swamp. A fitting description for the setting of the film that follows the interactions of an extended family through the heat of an oppressive summer spent at La Mandragora, the home of Mecha – mother, wife, cousin and employer to all who drift in and out of the home. La Mandragora means the mandrake, a poisonous plant with narcotic properties. Certainly, prophetic as much of the film showcases the characters lazing away in bed trying to escape the heat and one another.
Making the connection, did the film’s opening carry through to the film’s tone?
The opening of La Ciénaga sets the tone for the film perfectly. The adults, laconic and often drunk, take no real notice of the children. The unsupervised children either run wild engaging in dangerous antics or hang about the house desperately bored. The relationship between the adults and children is at the film’s core.
Bonus: How did the Women Make Film openings and tone chapter material influence how you watched this film?
To appreciate La Ciénaga is to appreciate its opening and tone. A lot happens and not much happens in the film. Through tone, the viewer feels the sticky languor of family’s summer and experiences their tensions and strained relationships. All done while remaining as apathetic to the characters as they are apathetic to one another. In its exploration of family, La Ciénaga is a master class in tone in film.