Thursday, 20 October 2011

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: Back To Stay



Back To Stay is a lovely little Argentine film I caught at the London Film Festival, drawn in by the story and also the line “the house is as much as a character as the people in it.” I do like anything where a place also has its own living and breathing presence and personality, particularly old houses, Usually used in a supernatural sense, and the premise beginning with “after the death of their grandmother…” I thought there may be hints of it during this film. There is, once, but it’s a watching rather than a haunting. Back To Stay is about three sisters, their bond and their own individual coming of age.

In an unnamed city somewhere in Argentina, three teenage sisters live alone in a big old deteriorating house, styled in the past by their grandmother, who has, as the film starts, died a short while ago. There is no mention of the girls’ parents so it is assumed they are orphans and it is their grandmother who raised them. Now left alone on the tip of adulthood they must navigate these difficult times by themselves, helped only by a male friend who appears to be either a neighbour or the ‘handyman’ of the house.

The three girls are very different. The eldest, Sofia, is at college, but is shown to be irresponsible, childish, bossy and prone to wearing some of the most inappropriate of clothes! Marina is the middle sister, studious, sensitive, rational and seems to be the only one who cares when the bills need paying or when the washing machine breaks. She has a crush on their male friend/handyman Francisco and in the opening scene we see her break up with her boyfriend. Violeta is the youngest, and has a vacant dreaminess about her and she floats from room to room, staring for hours at the TV and going through her grandmother’s clothes. She’s supposed to be at school but never goes, and has mysterious dalliances with a boy at the house whilst her sisters are at college.

The camera rarely leaves the house – occasionally venturing into the garden or the garage, but we never leave the site – the girls come and go but we stay with the house. It’s what holds them together – they've inheried it. The three of them are close, but there are tensions between Sofia and Marina: Sofia thinks Marina may be adopted as there are no pictures of her as a baby and she looks so different to them (it is never proven whether she is or not, though Marina’s violent reaction when she finds out that’s what Sofia has been telling people suggests she has an inkling herself). They don’t seem to miss their grandmother – it’s more her absence which has stunned the girls, forcing them to be adults sooner than they are ready. It’s a shock when Violeta suddenly leaves one day, to be with her boyfriend when he is offered a new job in a place “far away”. Marina and Sofia must alter their routine, but Sofia begins to keep things from Marina, shut her out and lock herself in her bedroom, upsetting her frustrated sister. Then Sofia begins to sell furniture and re-decorate spontaneously without a thought for Marina, but as time passes the two girls start working together to fashion the house as they would like to live there. The film’s alternative (Spanish) title “Open Doors and Windows” is as much about the house as it is about the girls’ emotions.

It’s an intimate study of family, relationships and characters. All three girls are interesting to watch (Violeta particularly enchanting with her beauty and listlessness) and there’s never a dull moment. It’s a quiet film – no music adding to sense of hushed atmosphere in this big empty house – file it under “not much happens but it’s wonderful to watch”. It lingers in the memory long after – such a curious and watchable little film is Back To Stay. Worth checking out if you ever get the chance.


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