JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Puzzle (Director/Writer: Natalia Smirnoff) - January 25, 2011 id="543337086">



4 4
87 min.

Reviewed at the 2011 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Alone in the country

What are you secretly good at?

Reaching 50 is a major milestone for most people. Even though life expectancies continue to lengthen (in most parts of the world … ), beginning one’s sixth decade still means that most of life has already been lived.

What better way to celebrate, then, than cooking your dinner (and that of a lot of close relatives) right down to the icing on the cake (replete with candy happy face).

After lighting your own candles, bringing the sweet confection into the family throng then blowing them out, there’s not much left to enjoy—except the cleaning up.

Welcome to María del Carmen’s (subtly portrayed by María Onetto) world. In her household there’s a doting husband (Gabriel Goity)—“I like you a lot”—and two adult sons. Neither is yet independent enough to leave the nest, but the imminent sale of some country property should provide enough capital to get them on their way.

Not coincidentally (the deliberately slow moving film is rich in imagery and metaphor), it’s the second plate of store-bought salami (so at odds with the remainder of the lovingly cooked homemade meal) that shatters on the floor—soiling the deli special but marvellously setting the table for the curious tale of piecing jigsaw puzzles together that dominates the rest of the production.

In María’s “loot bag” is a 1000-piece challenge. The nimble, liked—but hardly loved—housewife tosses it together while the “boys” take in a sporting match.

And there’s a fine madness in her method. Who amongst us hasn’t failed to build the border first then sorted the remaining pieces by colour? Maria purposely constructs from the inside out, taking immense pleasure in revealing the faces, scenes and other foreground landmarks rather than mechanically fitting together piece by piece, factory style.

How can this mundane pastime turn into a feature-length film? There’s a national championship coming up with a first-place prize of a trip to the puzzling World Cup (this year in Germany) and a gift certificate to the Buenos Aires location of Puzzlemania.

Sensing her greatness, Maria gamely answers an ad from a veteran competitor who seeks a partner to take him to the interlocking podium.

Roberto (Arturo Goetz) soon realizes that he’s found his ticket to glory and perhaps a bed mate as well.

No spoilers here—but who wins what, sleeps with whom or moves out doesn’t matter a bit.

Director/writer Natalia Smirnoff’s joie de vivre, of course, has nothing to do with putting 1500 bits of a picture together (in competition no one sees the box cover) in the fastest time but more the success of throwing off the yolk of terminal servitude while there’s still a whole lot of life yet to come. JWR

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