Wolfe Video // 2011 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // September 7th, 2011
Things are not all the same.
The Fish Child (originally titled El Niño Pez) was written and directed by Lucía Puenzo, who based it on her own novel. Puenzo has made a name for herself with her alternative sexuality stories set in Argentina.
Lala (Inés Efron, XXY) is a young woman living a privileged life with her well-to-do father in Buenos Ares, but she wants nothing more than to flee with her lover La Guayi (Mariela Vitale, Eva and Lola), a young maid who has worked for the family for the last six years. The two make plans to run away to Paraguay, where La Guayi promises a future with a house by a lake that holds the "fish child," a mystical being who guides lost souls to their final resting places on the bottom of the lake. They fund their escape by stealing valuables from the house, but they never seem to have quite enough for La Guayi and she stalls their leave-taking time and again.
Then Lala discovers her father and La Guayi having sex, and all bets are off. Lala takes off alone just as the news reports that her father has died. In Paraguay, Lala finds clues to her lover's troubled past, but is forced back home to confront her own demons when La Guayi is arrested for murder.
The Fish Child is one of those films wherein everyone has a dark secret or three hidden somewhere in their past. The trick to making this kind of film is to find ways to unfold those secrets within the narrative without the secrets becoming the narrative. This is The Fish Child's greatest weakness. The film doesn't give the audience enough context to understand all of the decisions the characters make, so the we are walled off from being completely immersed. All we get is a trip that reveals one secret after another without giving a full explanation of any of them.
For instance, it's unclear why Lala wants to leave her privileged life. Does she feel oppressed by her father? Could be, but he isn't depicted as being overbearing. At least, not overtly; there are hints that he might have a darker side, but if it truly exists, the film never brings it to light. Then again, perhaps she wants to be with her girlfriend and can't do so while living with her respectable father. That also could be, but there is nothing within the narrative that tells us so. All we know for certain is that she does want to leave, with La Guayi, as soon as possible.
La Guayi is not quite so sanguine about the idea. She continually acts like she's a partner in the planning, but pushes the timetable further back every day. La Guayi's reason for stonewalling is clearer; she's been destitute and doesn't want to leave a place where she has a roof over her head and a steady paycheck. But the narrative doesn't give a motive for La Guayi sleeping with Lala's father. Did he force himself on her? She's a servant who will possibly do anything to avoid losing her job, and he's a rich man accustomed to getting what he wants. Further, since the two girls are having their own affair, it might seem possible that La Guayi doesn't have a thing for men. On the other hand, La Guayi shows she has sexual feelings for the opposite sex by her interaction with dog trainer el Vasco (Diego Velázquez, Lovely Loneliness). She doesn't seem to be having a bad time with Lala's father, and Lala's anger, despair, and sudden departure upon making the discovery don't seem to fit if it was truly a forced arrangement. So it's consensual? Perhaps. Again, the film never says, one way or another.
It is these unexplained things that keep the film from reaching the emotional depths that it longs for. The issue is exacerbated by the lack of natural chemistry between the leads. Efron and Vitale are supposed to be in love, but you would never know it by watching the two of them together. Efron tries her best to emote something resembling passion, and ends up just looking worried for most of the film. Vitale is worse; La Guayi shows no real interest in Lala whatsoever. If the script allowed for it, I would guess La Guayi is stringing Lala along since Lala is the one procuring the stolen items. On the other hand, the relationship between La Guayi and el Vasco feels real. Velázquez's conflicted dog trainer is the true soul of the film, which is unfortunate since he's a secondary character. If the main thrust had been about his unrequited love for La Guayi, the movie would have been much more engaging.
The Fish Child does not fare well on the technical side of things. The picture is dark and full of grain, and the contrast is awful, especially in dark scenes. The 2.0 Dolby stereo sound is adequate, in that the voices come through clearly. There is some ambient noise in outdoor scenes, but it is usually covered by music that seems straight out of a yoga meditation video.
There are no extras on the disc, but the official website has a few little things that probably should have been included. Although I've never understood why filmmakers choose to show where they've used green screens. Why highlight the fakest-looking points of the movie?
The Fish Child is a sad tale full of dark secrets and aggressively unhappy people. Just a few more contextual clues and a stronger romantic link between the leads could have turned it into something really special. Instead, it is a film that feels incomplete in almost every way; there are too many unanswered questions left hanging, and there is no pure resolution, so the film ends by bringing up even bigger questions. It is an unsatisfying experience.
Reasonable doubt was never established. Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2011 Josh Rode; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site