Dir/scr: Natalia López Gallardo. Mexico/Argentina/US. 2022. 118 mins
A visually striking, thought-provoking and disquieting feature debut from Natalia López Gallardo who joins a talented array of female filmmakers such as Tatiana Huezo (Prayers for the Stolen)and Fernanda Valadez (Identifying Features) in bringing more intriguing stories from Latin America.
Isabel (Nailea Norvind) and her family live with her mother (Monica Poggio) in a rambling estancia where the threat of gang violence seems a million miles away from their languorous existence, although for their housekeeper, Maria (Antonia Olivares), it is very real and possibly the reason for the recent disappearance of her sister. Isabel is going through some kind of emotional trauma of her own after a potential marital disagreement. At a loose end and in empathy with Maria, she decides to make some discrete but ultimately ill-advised inquiries of her own.
In a bid to be enigmatic Robe of Gems loses its impact drifting around nebulously between a police thriller and a stylistic arthouse drama until finally gaining some shape in the second hour. The connections between the characters are never fully explained, their lives gradually fading into view in the woozy heat of a Mexican summer, the focus on mid-shots and close-ups only adding to the air of mystery in a drama where a great deal happens off-camera, in a series of episodes. Beyond the artistic flourishes though, few clues are given to enable understanding or feeling for the rather buttoned-up characters. That all said, López Gallardo must be applauded for telling a sinister story with such a lightness of touch and without resorting to violence; the final scene is quietly devastating. MT
SILVER BEAR JURY PRIZE WINNER | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022