An outdoor swimming pool and some children take turns to launch themselves from the diving board. One girl hesitates at the edge, frightened, uncertain. Cut.
In Kékszakállú – the enthralling latest film from Argentinian director Gastón Solnicki – this simple scene is simultaneously prosaic and charged. It is a film potent with contradictions: the sparse narrative is loosely structured while the individual scenes have the observational intensity of a documentary; Solnicki’s inspired, beautiful static compositions, are precise while seemingly casual, never ostentatious.
The story which slowly emerges centres on various female characters – some related to each other, some friends, all part of an upper class milieu – who are tentatively finding their way in the world; young people about to enter the confusing world of adulthood. We watch them on holiday, in their families, with friends, and at work. The power of this film is not to be found in the drama of plot development but – another contradiction – the impressionistically realist observation of these characters and our fascination with the unfolding mysteries.
The title Kékszakállú turns out to be as oblique and intriguing as the film itself. It is Hungarian for ‘Bluebeard’ in acknowledgement of Solnicki’s inspiration for the film – Bela Bartok’s one act, two-character, opera, BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE. The director’s own attempts to explain the connections make it hard to see them as anything more than tangential and highly personal. However, one thematic clue that Bartok’s innovative opera may provide is the insistence of Bluebeard’s new wife, the strong and compelling Judith, that her husband open the doors to all the closed rooms in the castle. Kékszakállú also focuses on female characters at the threshold of opening the doors to adulthood, though the the tone of the storytelling in the film has none of the gothic horror that awaits Judith behind some of those forbidden rooms. Indeed, the film is anything but operatic. It is decidedly low-key; an alluring exploration through a maze of seemingly unconnected scenes.
Perhaps a better comparison than BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE is a film by one of Solnicki’s compatriots, the masterful director Lucretia Martel. La Ciénaga (The Swamp) is her unsettlingly, atmospheric depiction of upper class Argentinian’s who are unable to gain satisfaction and fulfillment from the freedoms of their wealth. In the same way that Martel’s way with narrative is more sensitive to the non-sequiturs and ellipses of emotional logic than the mapping of plot points, Kékszakállú finds meaning in the tiniest of details, and revelation in the subtlest of connections.
At the end of Kékszakállú, one of the main characters acts decisively (I shan’t say any more than that). It is typically treated in a matter of fact way, yet it feels momentous and full of potential hope. Kékszakállú is a film which will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema.