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La Niña Santa Review

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A convention of ear, nose and throat specialists comes to a hotel in Argentina. When Dr. Jano (Belloso) suggestively presses up against teenager Amalia (Alche) in a crowd, she decides that it is her ‘calling’ to save him from sin.

★★★★

Sexual awakening is enough of an emotionally confusing experience without heaping religious instruction on top. No wonder that, in a stew over Catholic morality and carnal repression, teenager Amalia becomes convinced that a pervert rubbing his crotch against her in a crowd is a sign from God. There’s no sense that this is a forbidden love affair on her part: she stalks him because it is now her vocation to save him.

Lucrecia Martel’s second feature was well received at Cannes and has subsequently created something of a buzz on the festival circuit. It’s a subtle, insidious film that leaves its mark by creating a sensually humid atmosphere, where the decorative decay of the hotel reflects the moral lapse of the characters.

Martel sets up plenty of opposites — mother or daughter as object of lust for the man; physical love versus spiritual love; doctor as ‘diseased’ pervert; medicine and religion as healing forces — allowing the film’s dramatic tensions to emerge slowly around and between them. She keeps the camera close, letting the actors’ faces, not expositional dialogue, do the work. The result is a film that’s close to Robert Bresson in its eye for detail and spiritual suffering.

An exceptionally controlled film whose tensions build to the point where viewers might feel slightly frustrated by an unresolved ending.