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Review
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The Swimming Pool by Carlos Machado Quintela

Cuba - Berlinale 2013  

Thought provocking first feature by yet another Latin American filmmaker in love with minimalism

There is an increasingly frequent undercurrent in modern Latin-American cinema which insists on flirting with a minimalism that is more reminiscent of traditional art-house European influences then their very own. It is miles away from Solanas and Getino´s notorious cry for a Third Cinema focused on local needs that eventually led to a major film explosion in the region. The work of this new generation of Latin-American filmmakers has been received with mix feelings, with many new productions being praised by some and condemned by others.

Cuban director Carlos Machado Quintela seems to have hit the jackpot with his debut feature The Swimming Pool, managing to create a piece which is capable of appealing to different sensibilities.

Set in a public swimming pool where a small group of troubled handicapped youths meet daily for swimming lessons, at first the film appears to be going nowhere, limiting itself to a series of static portraits of the students mocking about while their passive swimming teacher witnesses submissively. Yet, behind this apparent void of objective the film stretches brilliantly into a voyeuristic analysis of the character´s distressed and strange relationships. Their favourite pass time is teasing each other; sometimes even beyond the reasonable. However, no matter how painful it may be, their daily presence feels vital to their existence. They need each other to feel and, at least for part of the day, be normal.

The main strength of the film is its capacity to turn an ordinary looking and decaying swimming pool, where no real significant action seems to take place, into a space for escapism of whatever troubles and difficulties the characters may have in the real world. It is simple but never simplistic, and it functions quite beautifully.

The subtle richness of the characters, in particular the beautiful green eyed amputee girl that fills the screen with her feisty presence, overcomes the tedium the slow pace of the film may provoke.

This is a powerful debut by Quintela, whose keen eye for restrained and refined observation triumphs in creating meaning where most of us see emptiness.

Review by Fernando Vasquez

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