A Love | Un Amor | Argentina | 2011 | 100 min. Director: Paula Hernández | Drama Spanish with English subtitles
Appearing as part of the Women in Film segment of the Chicago Latino Film Festival, the 2011 film Un Amor (A Love) is a patient and lovely film about an adolescent love triangle that ends suddenly, leaving its mark on the lives of three people. The film, directed and co-written by Paula Hernández and co-written by Leonel D’agostino is based on Sergio Bizzio’s 1966 short story “Un amor para toda la vida”.
An aspiring writer named Bruno had more or less gotten on with his life (wife, kids, house, etc.) when the sudden appearance of his former heartbreaking crush, Lisa, shows up at his front door one weekend. Lisa, in Buenos Aires on business, reminisces with Bruno about their time three decades ago in the calm town of Victoria, and asks him if he was still good friends with Lalo—the third side to their teenage love triangle.
Upon seeing Lisa, Bruno is immediately reminded of their youth, of how he and Lalo met her one day when the two of them were messing around and accidentally soaked her with a hose on a hot day and serendipitously commenced their friendship. Young and shy, Bruno was immediately taken aback by Lisa’s ferocity and carefree demeanor, which was converse to Bruno’s noticeable timidity and a good match for Lalo’s attractive yet mysterious maturity. Where Lalo was the epitome of a sexy bad boy—driving while smoking, drinking and singing nonchalantly and ordering drinks for Lisa on his mechanic’s salary—Bruno’s demeanor put him beneath Lisa’s radar. After Lalo and Lisa kissed in his car one night, Bruno transformed from friend to third wheel, watching their relationship blossom from nearby and afar and eventually letting his yearning for her turn into resentment and jealousy. Though Bruno shows these feelings in a number of scenes, the audience is left unsure of his motivations—does he really care for Lisa, or is this about competition with Lalo?
Though Bruno’s flashbacks are the first the audience sees of the trio’s youth, that device is prevalent throughout the first half of the movie, making Un Amor oscillate between a distant but intimate adolescence and their divergent, present-day adulthood. Bruno’s, Lalo’s and possibly Lisa’s memories of that vacation are so tied together by events, warm colors and charming music that eventually it becomes difficult for the viewer to ascertain whose flashbacks we are seeing. However, this blurring of personal experience is appropriate, instead showing their collective memory and experience; the way they all felt together.
The soundtrack by Axel Krygier provides a wonderful context for a complex long-ago love triangle that has been to hell and back. One song is heavy on sweetly fuzzy guitars layered over strings, keyboards and potent yet lighthearted percussion. Memories of Lisa are often accompanied by an original piano song that is as appropriate as it is unassuming and flows nicely into the occasional romantic Chopin piece. The diegetic (non-soundtrack) music is more present in the flashbacks, making those scenes particularly authentic and establishing the 1970s setting with old cumbias playing in the clubs and on a car radio. However, it is Krygier’s theme music throughout the film that really sets the mood and connects emotions of past and present together. (Not to mention the great acting not only by the Diego Peretti, Luis Ziembrowswski and the great Elena Roger, but also by the teen versions of their characters, which were well-casted.)
They remember boredom, beaches, dancing, drinking and all the other things 16 year-olds do in a sleepy town while on vacation. Their memories are vivid, detailed and connected to places in the town of Victoria as well as visceral experiences, from butterflies in their stomachs, to the taste of a liquor-filled candy and popsicles, to Lalo touching Lisa’s hand while teaching her to drive stick, to Bruno masturbating in his bed with thoughts of Lisa. Lisa and Lalo’s sweet relationship—and their love triangle with Bruno—comes to a sudden end when Lisa’s family leaves town. Too hurt to tell Lalo, Lisa disappears and leaves him with only letters that he never has the strength to open.
Flash-forward to the present-day: here is Lisa coming back into her childhood friends’ lives as suddenly as she left. However, the suddenness of her departure and arrival is paradoxically dragged out over thirty years. In all those years Bruno, Lalo and Lisa never forgot each other and thusly hold onto that part of their lives within themselves, for better or worse. In a late scene in the film, adult-Lalo claims, “Si Victoria fuera el unico lugar en el mundo, ustedes no se hubieran ido.” If Victoria were the only place in the world, you two wouldn’t have left. And though they make a joke of it, they realize it’s true. For them that place and their time together in Victoria—in Victory—defined their entire lives; it never left them, and now they need to face their past and where it currently left them. “Se ve todo igual, pero distinto” Lisa says of that town upon seeing it again, but her words have a weight to them that makes you think she is not just talking about the town. Un Amor asks an age-old question about the perseverance of love, or perhaps the lack thereof: Can you ever get back the love you lost, or is it too late? Did you really have it to begin with?
In a recent brief review of the original short story, it was written:
Un amor para toda la vida es una típica historia de triángulo amoroso entre dos amigos y una chica forastera que llega a convulsionar un pequeño pueblo, y Bizzio la cuenta como una típica historia de triángulo amoroso. No trata de convencer al lector de que esta historia es extraordinaria o especial ni de que es una nueva forma de decir lo mismo pero de un modo inédito. Es una historia más. Pero en esa simpleza sin afecciones, suena con una sinceridad enorme, con gran capacidad de hacernos sentir. Los personajes aman y lo que el lector sabe de ellos es exactamente eso: su amor.*
This short story’s simplicity and sincerity definitely carries over into the film adaptation of this short story. Your boy having a crush on your lady has probably occurred in literally every place, ever. There is nothing remarkable about such a story in and of itself, but the way Un amor weaves together desires and memories of adolescence with those of adulthood, at times making them one in the same, is what sucks the viewer in and makes them feel things along with the characters. The film’s description on the CLFF site asks, “Can the easy-going triangle of yesteryear be revived?”, but what seems to me a better question is: Did it ever die?
* Translation: “A Love for All Time is a typical love triangle story among two friend and an outsider girl that throws a small town into upheaval, and Bizzio tells that story like that of a typical love triangle. He does not try to convince the reader that this story is extraordinary or special, nor that he is telling it in a new way, but rather in an unpublished way. It’s just one more story. But in that simplicity without pretension, the story has enormous sincerity and a grand capacity for making us feel. The characters love and what the reader knows of them is just that: their love.”