My penultimate review from my remote coverage of the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is for Clementina, a film from Argentina by Jimena Monteoliva. I mention her, not because I expect you to know her work offhand, but because she shows the potential to be someone whose work you will know offhand.
After a (presumed) ruckus, a neighbor finds Juana beaten and unconscious on the floor of her apartment. Her baby bump is noticable, but so is the pool of blood she’s laying in. In the hospital, Juana is informed that she lost her baby. She doesn’t cooperate with the social services woman or the cop asking her to implicate her husband, Mateo, in the attack. When she is released, she returns to the home they shared and jumps at every little sound, thinking it may be him. It never is. But if it’s not him, then who (or what) is making those sounds in the apartment and moving the toys from the unused baby room around the place? Once Juana finds out, she decides to deal with her trauma in a very surprising way.
Clementina is intensely unsettling from the opening shot all the way through to the credits. Juana – skillfully played by Cecilia Cartasegna – is set adrift in her own life by a violent attack. She’s scared and confused and she seems to be losing her grip on reality. The aftermath of her assault is portrayed with such realism and disorder that her state is wholly believable. She shows signs of PTSD but she also sings along with and dances to a song but that breaks down into a manic episode that then dissolves into depression and is followed by hearing the tinkle of a music box from the empty baby’s room. Is it real or is she imagining it? That question comes up several times throughout the story. That quiet chaos keeps the viewer on uneven footing and sows anxiety that makes every single unexplained bump or giggle seem as intense as a good jump scare. This is a superbly crafted tragedy. We instantly sympathize with the grieving would-be mother and side with her against her monstrous (but very human) attacker. The danger she ends up in puts viewers right on the edges of their seats with nails between teeth. And (without spoiling anything) the final moments show that Monteoliva knows that trauma compounds rather than heals in these situations. A very thoughtful and heartbreakingly honest portrayal that is all too absent in most genre films.
The Final Cut: Clementina is an outstanding tragedy with a big heart and a brutal finale. The whole spectrum of complex human emotions is portrayed with a messy honesty that indelibly connects the viewer to the subject.