Monday, September 3, 2018

Movie Review: April's Daughter

April's Daughter * ½ / *****
Directed by: Michel Franco.
Written by: Michel Franco.
Starring: Emma Suárez (Abril), Ana Valeria Becerril (Valeria), Enrique Arrizon (Mateo), Joanna Larequi (Clara), Hernán Mendoza (Gregorio), Ivan Cortes (Jorge).
I am not one of those people who require that every single thing in a movie needs to be explained – I embrace the mystery in certain films, because not knowing the answer – or at least not a definitive answer – makes them a richer experience. What I do require however is that what happens in a movie make a certain amount of sense – at least a sense that someone, somewhere knows what is going on, and that not everything that happens in the movie is completely and totally random, with no rhyme or reason to any of it. Michel Franco’s April’s Daughter doesn’t pass that test – because pretty much everything its main character does is completely and totally illogical, and there’s not a hint as to why she behaves that way. And she is not the only character in the film this is true of.
When the film opens, we learn that 17 year-old Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) is pregnant with Mateo’s (Enrique Arrizon) child – another 17 year-old. Valeria lives with her grumpy older sister Clara (Joanna Larequi) – who is in her early 20s, in a fancy beach house in Mexico – although neither does much for money. Their mother is April (Emma Suarez) – but she doesn’t live with them, or near them, and whatever she is doing is never explained. Valeria doesn’t want April to know she’s pregnant until after the baby is born – and she probably would have gotten away with it, had Clara not ratted her out – and April comes home, all of a sudden a doting mother. Most of the action happens after the baby is born – it isn’t as easy as Valeria and Mateo thought it would be – especially since his parents essentially disown him – but they are struggling through. Somehow though, April conspires with Mateo’s parents to sign adoption papers giving the baby away (I don’t think you can do that, anywhere, even if the mother and father are minors themselves) – and then won’t tell Valeria and Mateo where their child is. It turns out that April has moved to Mexico city, and is raising the baby as her own – eventually stopping all communication with her other kids, and trying to sell the house from under them. Stranger still, she not only attempts to, but succeeds at, seducing Mateo – and moving in with him. When Valeria eventually does figure everything out – she is pissed.
That the movie is far-fetched isn’t really the problem. I could see a movie made of this wacky premise working (it wouldn’t be easy, but it’s possible) – but Franco doesn’t give his actors anything to work with, anything to play with in order to make any of it seem real. Where was April when the movie began? Why does she go months without seeing her daughters? Why, when does come back, does she immediately become overbearing – taking control over Clara’s diet, and Valeria’s pregnancy? Why does no one, ever, call her out on it? Why does she want the baby? Why does she want Mateo? Why does she do her final act in the film? Suarez is a terrific actress – she was last seen in a great performance in Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta, but she cannot play what isn’t there. Nothing April does in the film makes the slightest bit of sense. I suppose you could write Mateo off as a horny teenager, which is why he allows himself to be seduced – you’d have to, because the movie also gives no reasons for his actions – and whether Arrizon is a good actor or not, he comes across here as a blank slate – as does nearly everyone else in the film (Larequi plays Clara as nearly comatose). At least Ana Valeria Becerril makes Valeria genuinely believable – she is a spoiled, naïve kid in the first scenes – and legitimately angry later – all recognizable human emotions and behaviors – the only ones in the film.
Franco is clearly inspired by Michael Haneke – he wants to give his film the same kind of cold, detached style, and portray the sins of the complacent upper class, that they will eventually be punished for. But Haneke’s film still make sense – we may not know the precise motivations behind the sending of the videos in Cache for example – not even at the end – but the way the people receiving them behave is recognizably human. Without that, all you’re left with is empty provocation – which is what April’s Daughter is.

Note: In case anyone is wondering why I'm posting this now, it's because I saw it a year ago at TIFF, and normally I hold the full review until the film is released - but a year later, and no release date in sight, I decided just to post it before this year's TIFF. It's the only film I saw last year at TIFF that saw no release.

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