The second film in the LA Film Festival‘s mini retrospective of Argentinian Leopoldo Torres Nilsson was 1959′s La Caída (The Fall). A once-highly respected director, his profile has plummeted since his heyday of the late ’50s and early ’60s, and his presence at the festival is a valuable opportunity for at least a partial return to the pantheon.

Most frequently in this period collaborating with his novelist/screenwriter wife Beatriz Guido and actress Elsa Daniel, he once again has the latter as his lead, the beautiful and elegant literature student Albertina, young and provincial but with strong core of independence, who takes a room in a Buenos Aires boarding house otherwise occupied by a bedbound mother and four uncannily self-sufficient children, along with a locked door to the room of their mysterious and absent uncle, Lucas.

Nilsson’s canted angles and looming close-ups (courtesy of DP Alberto Etchebehere) and Juan Carlos Paz’s modernist orchestral score lay on the unease (sometimes a bit thickly) and as the silent mother eerily forewarns via her chalk board, the children are indeed mean little liars. Even if their signature meal of tiny roasted birds is deliciously unnerving, they’re not greatly threatening, for the most part more annoying than to be feared; the eldest wants to boss her around like the man of the house, as does the delightfully self-important young lawyer Indarreguis whom she starts to see, whose railing against the frivolity of modern life is amusingly backed up by the hellish orgy of a jazz club (an old order is certainly passing).

The fall of the title is that subjugation to which Albertina will not bow, accepting Indarreguis as her sovereign master. Nor will she bow to Lucas when he finally appears, seducing her with his well-traveled world-weariness (his bedroom is full of the magical artefacts of père Jules’ cabin in L’Atalante) and a line about seeing her in every port, every woman. It’s not clear how much of a line it actually is – he appears to be sincere – but Albertina is still having none of it, preferring her independence to being told what to do, where to live, what books to buy.

If the film never quite gels and Albertina’s character never quites come into focus – although a modern woman in many ways, she shows herself to be still partly at least an old fashioned Argentinian bourgeoise in her shock at the children’s half-clad bathing and sacrilegious communing – it’s still hard not to warm to a movie in which a bookstore copy of The Magic Mountain prompts a flashback to the heroine’s time of reading it, and if the children don’t seem as sinister as one might expect, it is apparent in the final moments that we should perhaps have had more sympathy for them.

Rating: 7.8/10

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