El día trajo la oscuridad
starring Pablo Caramelo, Marta Lubos, Romina Paula, Mora Recalde
screenplay by Josefina Trotta
directed by Martin De Salvo
by Walter Chaw A girl closes a gate, one of those rural gates that spans an entire driveway entrance, and director Martin de Salvo shoots it with a camera mounted on the end of the gate itself. It's innovative and intimate, and there's something adoring in it, so we adore her. She's Virginia (Mora Recalde), a caretaker of her father, a doctor, at a house in the middle of nowhere. One night, he carries in her cousin, Anabel (Romina Paula), mumbles that she's ill, and takes her up to a bedroom, closing the door. Darkness by Day, de Salvo's second feature, is beautiful, unfolding in long, contemplative wide shots that in their composition and subject remind a great deal of Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive. It resembles that film, too, in the way it moves like a nightmare--the kind where nothing's wrong, except everything feels bad. Virginia begins to sleep a lot. Her cousin wakes up and they spend time together talking, listening to old records, drinking wine. There's a story between them told only through glances that linger maybe a beat too long and a dance that seems fuelled less by wine than by nostalgia. And nobody seems to be answering the telephone at Anabel's family home anymore.
I won't spoil Darkness by Day by saying what it's ostensibly about, because, in the end, it's not even really about that. What it's ostensibly about, in fact, is a distraction to the mood of the piece. I will say that, in addition to The Spirit of the Beehive, it feels like Under the Skin and Let the Right One In and Pan's Labyrinth. I can't put my finger on what it is that those movies feel like that identifies them so in my mind, but I know it when I encounter it. It has something to do with a mysterious sense that something's off and unknowable yet familiar, too, which makes it horrible and tragic. But you adore Virginia, you treasure her in her lavender sweaters with her frank, open gaze. Virginia begins to have terrible dreams, and then Darkness by Day suggests either that those dreams are coming true and that she's prescient, that we all dream our possible outcomes, or that we are helpless against the way we feel and the people we love. There's a fire somewhere in her dreams. When we learn what the fire represents and piece together at last the chronology of the film, it landed for me with the weight of a cathedral bell.
Darkness by Day, in a way, fulfills the promise of Argentine cinema that began with Fabián Bielinsky's nice duet of noirs and ended, I think, in Bielinsky's untimely death. I sat with him once for an interview. We bonded over our love of the same films. We exchanged contact information and then, before I reached out to him, he died. Though it's possible that part of my affection for Darkness by Day has to do with that regret of not pursuing this friendship before it was too late, the film by itself is representative of what I thought would be a wave of painterly, genre-intuitive cinema from Argentina. I was confident from my brief interaction with Bielinsky that this Argentine director, schooled in film history and driven by a poet's eye, would start a movement--a new new wave. Maybe it's come to pass at last in this story of women in isolation (add a third to the mix, an older shopkeeper, to complete the mother/whore/virgin triptych), of persistence, time, and the things we do for each other in terminus. I was in love from the moment Virginia kills a mosquito on her arm and leaves a smear of blood there: it's shocking within the drab, washed-out colour palette. Darkness by Day is begging me to see it again.