Pablo Trapero’s The Quietude (2018) probably has a story to tell, but it hasn’t made up its mind about what that is. What results is an ideologically frustrating, sometimes-funny tale of family drama, sisterly sexual tension, Argentinian political affairs and crime, which entices without ever fully delivering.
The Quietude follows a wealthy Argentinian family’s foibles, playing out on an expansive ranch named (somewhat ironically – this family is far from tranquil) La Quietud. After the father and family patriarch suffers a stroke, big sister Eugenia (Bérénice Bejo) returns to the family ranch from Paris. Reunited with her sister Mia (Martina Gusman), and mother Esmeralda (Graciela Borges), what unfolds next is the seemingly irreperable cracking of a familial façade.
The film opens boldly, with high aspirations. From the moment Eugenia and Mia hug it out at the airport, a sexual brew begins to bubble between the two sisters. Their uncanny physical likeness and magnetic intimacy is punctuated by matching tattoos: two fish united in a yin-yang symbol on the wrists. Conceptual nods to iconic ‘doubles’ films like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001) and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) are notable; with only the film’s poster as pretext, the interrogation of the sisters’ confusing relationship made me think I was settling into a bewitching tale of this genre.
The Quietude delivers on this promise – at least, at times. Where it fails is when propelling the audience on this trajectory only to disappoint them by waffling in its resolve, constantly introducing new plot lines which never fully develop.
In one of the most jarring but ultimately disappointing scenes, a mere half hour into the film, we see Eugenia and Mia crossing traditional sibling boundaries in bed, vocalising their adolescent fantasies about the family’s sexy former plumber. A scene which should have been sensually depraved ends up soiled by the camera’s lazy male gaze (Trapero aught to learn that the mind is the body’s most potent sex organ; we don’t need a tacky girl-on-girl scene a la Porn Hub to feel turned on). The scene also adds very little value to the actual story; the sexual sister concept is hardly ever re-visited, when it is, it’s overshadowed by around six other plot points.
One of these plot points centres around Argentinian political turmoil, my knowledge of which is admittedly shallow. Perhaps then some of the film’s later a-ha moments were lost on me, but alleged political significance aside, this film suffers from the classic mistake of tackling too many issues at the expense of their legitimacy, both artistic and social. After much of the film’s melodrama – many of the adulterous scenes border on ridiculous – is over, the decision to introduce political themes seemed to be an afterthought, a last minute attempt to add some easy value to a story quickly spiralling out of control.
The Quietude shines in its performances, each of the three leading actresses fulfilling their roles with genuine emotion and, at times, nuance. An emotional latter scene between Esmeralda and her two daughters is genuinely affecting. But are these performances enough to save a plot which feels aimlessly doomed? No lo creo.
by Emma Olsson