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Dysfuction Is the New Normal: Close-Up on "So Long Enthusiasm"

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Vladimir Durán's So Long Enthusiasm (2017), which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from July 5 - August 4, 2018 as a Special Discovery.
So Long Enthusiasm
It’s become almost commonplace to observe that Kafka’s novella Metamorphosis isn’t about an ugly-looking bug, but instead about the inner workings of a family in a time of crisis. When we can’t depend on the support of others, what personal inner resources might we reveal?
A similar question drives the Colombian filmmaker Vladimir Durán’s feature debut, So Long Enthusiasm (2017), in which members of a tight-knit family—three sisters in their 20s and an eleven-year-old boy, Axel (Camilo Castiglione)—find themselves cooped up in their apartment in Buenos Aires, with guests and friends coming and going, as their mother, Margarita (Rosario Bléfari) convalesces, locked up in her bedroom.
“Dysfunctional is the new normal” could be the guiding motto for the film, as it is, in a way, in Kafka’s story, in which Gregor Samsa must think through and get around the biological limitations of his insect body. In Durán’s film, the limitations are not physiognomic but spatial—the children communicate with their mother either through a window that connects the bathroom with her room, or through her bedroom’s door. Quirky moments of companionship and play ensue, such as tapping out rhythms on the door with Axel, to pass time, or giving incessant relationship and psychological advice to somewhat aloof Antonia (Mariel Fernández), the daughter who’s being shyly wooed by a young man, Bruno (played by Durán himself).
The mother doles out advice despite the fact that she herself appears to pop pills to address a series of nervous symptoms—an irony that isn’t lost on her exasperated daughters, whose reactions to her waiver between solicitous and, at times, dismissive. In the more intimate realm, there’s the proximity of bodies, in spite of the walls that separate them, including the washing and the pampering that takes place off screen. But unlike Samsa’s, the mother’s physiology remains a mystery, her body represented by her voice alone.
That voice is omnipresent. Fragile, polarizing, and marginalized, it nevertheless constantly imposes itself, to the point of permeating every niche and cranny of the Buenos Aires apartment where the family lives. Paradoxically, the fact that the voice is visually devoid of a body makes it even more insidious, the nagging as if internalized by the young women. A bit of Freudian mischief, in what is essentially a finely observed, slightly absurdist drama.
The way this absurdity mingles with the mundane, creating a quirky effect, is partly thanks to the casually paced fine acting—particularly by Laila Maltz (Marta), who has played in a number of recent Argentine films, including Gastón Solnicki’s Kékszakállú, and whose deadpan delivery is perfectly suited for the comic, eccentric roles (Maltz was memorable as a crazed young impersonator in María Alche’s short, Noelia).
As the camera moves languidly down the hallways, taking advantage of the wide aspect ratio that stretches and flattens the image, further strengthening the sense of claustrophobia, we catch glimpses of parallel spaces. Characters are often seen together within the frame, yet in spaces separated by walls, coming up against each other in a constant flow, exchange, permeability and friction. In this universe, mostly of female voices, work, desire, and bodies, Axel is a bit unmoored. With no father figure to ground him, he latches onto, but is also alarmed, even repelled, by the men who visit. “Who invited you in?” he questions Antonia’s suitor. Thus the family home comes across as a seat of a secret society, open only to the initiated.
Indeed, the film’s charm lies precisely in conveying this familial hermetism, resistant to being broken, and governed by unspoken rules. In this complex web of love and loyalties, Alex is infantilized, yet relied upon to share in the decision-making. When the mother decides to celebrate her birthday early—apparently to consume the pills she is being made to stagger out—family and friends gather in the living room. The jolly celebration gets underway, with the birthday girl behind closed doors. Yet when aunt Marta (the wonderfully combustible Verónica Llinás) stages a psychotherapeutic game, the guests are forced into a confrontation with the unseen patient.
In spite of the minor shocks, and Marta’s angry harangue, the film isn’t about infirmity, sacrifice, or blame. There are no mentions of the absentee father, no divagations as might accompany a chronic or sudden psychological illness. Under Durán’s minute lens, the bodies release small charges, words flicker and die off, emotions are fleeting, and hard to pin down, even by those who experience them. “I don’t want to cry,” says Alicia towards the end. This is trauma as avoidance, and resilience as an ability to adjust, to uphold one’s guard.
Yet the film is also touched by genuine melancholy. We can sense in it the contemporary zeitgeist, present in other Argentine films, in which the young face their own paralysis, while witnessing the disintegration, be it economic or social, of their parents’ lives and ambitions. In this melancholic touch, the film’s closest keen may perhaps be the Russian classic—Anton Chekov’s Three Sisters—in which young women find themselves in a state of permanent stasis.
This stasis is further intensified in So Long Enthusiasm by the lack of any future plans, or deliberate dreams. In the end, in this wistful study of the status quo that suffocates the young, the outsiders, such as Alejandra’s (Martina Juncadella) boyfriend, are absorbed into the familial matrix, without breaking its spell.        

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