El premium – The Prize (2011)
Directed by: Paula Markovitch | 115 minutes | drama, crime | Actors: Laura Agorreca, Paula Galinelli Hertzog, Viviana Suraniti, Sharon Herrera, Uriel Iasillo
A young girl tries to plow through the sand on old-fashioned roller skates. It’s gray, it’s storming and it doesn’t work. Wind-blown, she enters a shabby little house, right on the beach, where she and her mother are staying for reasons that are initially unclear. The film ‘El Premio’ tells a story through the eyes of the seven-year-old protagonist Cecilia – a phenomenal role by Paula Galinelli Hertzog. The how and why only becomes clear very slowly and even remains largely unknown. The fact that the film takes place in Argentina is apparent from the context and, of course, the accents of the characters. That the Edelstein family is Jewish becomes implicitly clear and that they have to go into hiding from the dictatorship that is raging in Argentina at the time, too. Neither Cecilia nor the viewer will know much more. Where is the father? How long do they have to hide here? Why are books buried in the sand? The many questions also reflect the general feeling of utter insecurity that victims of the regime must have felt.
‘El premio’ (the prize) is based on the childhood experiences of filmmaker Paula Markovitch (1968), who previously co-wrote ‘Temporada de patos’ and ‘Lake Tahoe’; two films by Mexican director Ferdinand Eimbcke, before she made her debut with this feature film. Markovitch now lives in Mexico, but as a child lived in Argentina during the ‘dirty war’, specifically in the deserted coastal town of San Clemente de Tuyu, where ‘El premio’ was filmed. Although Argentina does not appear on the credits as a production country, the film is entirely about that country. The impossibility of trusting compatriots, the oppression and the bad association that the Catholic faith acquired during the dictatorship are important themes that still receive full attention in contemporary Argentine society.
At the local school where her mother allows her to take lessons, Ceci meets her peer Lucia, who is also wonderfully played by Laura Agorreca. Lucia bares her teeth (a few are missing) in every scene, but at the same time has the intense seriousness about her that only a child can have. The friendship between the two girls is of the purest kind, as their situation leaves them with little or no knowledge of each other, and is put to the test when the school teacher painfully tries to teach the children the norms and values of the military regime. to bring. After Cecilia has secretly passed on the answers to a classmate for a test, the teacher has the whole class walk around in the pouring rain until Lucia betrays the culprit, then reassures the children that reporting fellow students is a good thing. . The sentence: ‘If someone does something wrong, you should always tell it’, in the context of the Argentine dictatorship, has a very bad aftertaste. The attitude of the same schoolteacher a few scenes later, when she actually saves Cecilia from being exposed, makes an extra impression.
Stylistically, this film fits into contemporary Latin American cinema, with minimalist means and realistic, everyday images. There is no thick plot, just as little as extensive dialogue or much use of music. This style gives the film – especially in combination with the pure play of the young children (besides Ceci and Lucia, another class full) – especially strength, although a few minutes could have been missed. The director’s personal memories play an important role throughout the film, and regardless of which elements are truly autobiographical—that’s irrelevant—certain sequences where this comes out strongly are simply too long. A final turn in the editing room could have made the film even stronger, but ‘El premio’ is also worth watching in this form.