Rightly considered one of the most prominent figures for the Argentinean new wave of cinema, Martín Rejtman first stepped into the attention of a small group of local cinephiles through his debut feature, Rapado in 1992, when the Argentine narrative film industry was struggling with unimaginative naturalist and often typical politically-charged work. Being an off-beat comedy, Rapado reflected Rejtman’s stylistic eccentricity from the beginning and successfully laid a solid foundation for later works. Originally released in 1999, Rejtman’s second feature, Silvia Prieto solidified the promise of Rejtman’s previous experiences. A serio-comedy that, on the one hand, reflects the author-turned-filmmaker’s fascination for literary narration and dialogue, and on the other hand, delicately alternates between a minimalistic realism and a stylistically refined absurd screwball. Following its eponymous, middle-class lead (Rosario Bléfari), Silvia Prieto is from the start a deadpan urban satire, where the main character — a directionless, Buenos Aires divorcée and a stiff, obsessively calculating young woman — soon finds herself within some uncanny situations: encountering her same-name doppelgänger in a phone book, dating her ex-spouse’s new date’s former spouse. In fact, it’s all a bit hard to describe, as Rejtman shapes a very specific ouroboros-like universe around Silvia and the other young characters. The dialogues mostly revolve around money, financial issues, television, or beauty products, which all structure a web-like world mainly ruled by capitalist relations, the media, sex, and consumerism.
Mostly consisting of a series of medium two-shots, with Rejtman’s camera fixed directly toward a pair of actors and rarely cutting a scene into different angles, the director succeeds at rendering the verbal and vibrational interactions between characters — who usually seize the day just by dawdling their time eating or aimlessly blabbering in cafes or while cooking meals at homes — with gentle empathy. Characters here are frequently impulsive, their decisions often foolish, and indeed, it’s not hard to find some similarities between Rejtman’s directorial instincts and those of Èric Rohmer or even Howard Hawks. But he distinguishes his work through a singular, poker-faced sense of humor, his easy authenticity easily traced to the burgeoning later generations of Argentinean filmmakers, most notably in the work of someone like Matías Piñeiro. It’s no surprise, then, that while Silvia Prieto is a film that boasts a soft, cold color palette and rides the wave of Rejtman’s elliptical editing, its core character is altogether warmer — the profound and often heartfelt pursuit of meaning and identity in life. Silvia Prieto seeks to convey the cruciality of finding both belonging and self-discovery, reveling in the act of reclaiming one’s own voice in order to narrate one’s own story, however confused it may be. Because even when one’s surroundings seem to be overblown with deafening, ambient silence (another of the film’s stylistic tics), and although living in an uncaring modern world where the words of men and women can be absurdly futile and distancing, Rejtman understands that one must always endeavor to re-engage with the self and with others. Silvia Prieto/Silvia Prieto is a beautiful reminder of just that.
Published as part of Neighboring Scenes 2021.