San Sebastian 2018 review: Julia y el zorro (Inés María Barrionuevo)

Every now and then at a festival there is a film that completely takes you off guard and sends you into raptures. Julia y el zorro (Julia and the Fox) by Inés María Barrionuevo was that very film for me at the 66th San Sebastian Film Festival. I have to admit I chose it randomly, only based on its plot and the fact it was directed by a young Argentinian female director. I somehow secretly hoped I would be discovering the new Lucrecia Martel (I know there is and there will always be ONE Lucrecia Martel, but you get the picture). Well, guess what? I genuinely think I have! My apologies for those of you who think I’m late to the party and who were fortunate enough to have discovered her already with her debut feature, Atlántida, which premiered in 2014 in the Generation 14plus section of the Berlin Festival, where her second short film La prima sueca (The Swedish Cousin, 2017) also screened.

I could tell you Inés María Barrionuevo masters soundscape like hardly anybody not called Terrence Malick does these days.

I could tell you she shoots dinner scenes with sharp Chabrolian camera movements.

I could tell you she turns her gaze on children with Truffaldian tenderness and authenticity.

I could tell you she loves nothing more than approaching her lead actress’ body and face with Cassavetian sensuality.

I could tell you she managed to make me question my gayness with the way she filmed her mind-blowingly beautiful actress, this Argentinian Woman Under the Influence whose name alone is an invitation to romantic rêverie: Umbra Colombo. The irony of the film is that there happens to be a gay couple at the core of the narrative too, but I’m sorry, I was too busy losing my senses over Umbra.

I could tell you that Umbra/Julia’s 12-year-old daughter in the film is sad because a human cannonball died and her mother tells her she didn’t even know him, and her daughter answers it’s even sadder.

I could tell you that along with Jong-seo Jeon dancing naked between dog and wolf in Burning, the very last sequence of Julia is the most sensuous ode to womanhood I’ve seen on the silver screen this year (call it any other recent year since we are at it). This time around, it involves a car breaking down in the Córdobese mountains, a red jacket and Umbra Colombo at her most Gena Rowlands possible. And oh, I was about to forget, we’re between dog and wolf… again!

I could tell you most of the film takes place in and around a mansion about to fall into ruin in a village of Córdoba, Argentina.

I could tell you the most compassionate families are often those that life forces us to re-invent and re-create after a bereavement.

I could tell you that pain enjoys company and that Julia thinks people never change and pain is something she can separate from her body. Oh, and she has lizard scales under her beautiful skin (on top of being a conservative gorilla who likes Eva Perón), or so thinks her lifelong friend Gaspar after smoking a joint with her at dusk.

I could tell you we learn about oligopolistic groups and the best way to make Spanish omelettes (that is how the best chefs are judged).

I could tell you Germán A. Sánchez’s score almost moved me to tears at times and Ezequiel Salinas (who has been working with the director since her very first short film) will be a DP to follow very closely now.

I could tell you way more fascinating things this ridiculously gifted woman director is capable of with her camera, but then you might be thinking this is typical festival hyperbole, so I shall stop here (trust my long festival experience, you would be dead wrong!).

I can eventually tell you it is the portrait of a wounded (ex-actress) woman. But this is/would be so reductive.

You might also be thinking this is not a film review and you still have no idea what that film is about. Well, guess what again: you would be right. This is not a film review. This is Not a Love Song. This is a love letter to an unknown Argentinian woman. Unknown to me, that is. If you bump into her somewhere, please let her know she put a Barthesian love spell on me with Julia… and her fox too. And since the lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits (Barthes, encore et toujours), I’m now waiting for Inés María Barrionuevo’s third feature like there’s no tomorrow.