Malena (Barbara Lennie), a doctor from Buenos Aires, travels to a remote village to complete an illegal adoption arranged through the seemingly benevolent Dr. Costas. The adoption falls apart when the family of the biological parent asks for more money due to an accident affecting one of its chief wage earners. With the aid of a reluctant, but still supportive common law husband, Malena tries to meet this new demand, but the ground rules continue to shift, and desperate measures seem her only logical response.
Diego Lerman and co-writer Maria Meira have crafted a seamless mix of docudrama, character study and thriller that transcends the usual limitations of social realism. We see most of the action through the sympathetic, but middle-class eyes of Malena, who struggles with both her near inexpressible desire for a child and liberal good intentions. The poverty and corruption of life in rural Argentina, the film implies, is part of the same system that allows Malena and her husband to enjoy the good life in the city.
Striking cinematography by Wojciech Staron, which evokes the look of mid to late period Kieslowski, heightens the sense of growing danger in an environment that sets its own rules. Barbara Lennie’s Malena is supported by a cast that never lets a false moment slip by. Daniel Arzoz as Dr. Costas alternates between courtly empathy and cynical pragmatism, while Yanina Avila as birth mother Marcela proves to be suitable match for the viewer’s sympathies in a climatic dialogue.
The cumulative impact of the rich contributions of Lerman’s cast and crew add up to a simple story told in a bold and unique way. From its first to final shot, A Sort of Family treats its timely themes of middle class complacency and the lack of opportunity for the poor in a bold and innovative way that brings the viewer into the heart of any debate about who’s right and who’s wrong. While this film makes clear that the issues are complex and the human beings involved are torn between traditional morality, legal niceties and simple economic survival, the execution of this story is completely assured and its poetic finale is charged with political bite.
Director: Diego Lerman
Writers: Diego Lerman, María Meira
Stars: Bárbara Lennie, Daniel Aráoz, Claudio Tolcachir