Every frame of the Argentinean film Kept and Dreamless is marked by splashes of colour: orange stairwells, fluorescent pink clothing, and dyed yellow hair flash on screen with all the brightness of a matador’s costume. Even in scenes that take place at night, something is always shimmering, from the luminescent blue of a street lamp reflected in a rain puddle to the chrome stylings on an old Volvo. Kept and Dreamless is so visually impressive that when certain scenes open you feel yourself take in a little gasp of air. But it soon becomes evident that the film’s aesthetic appeal is a veneer: stylization masks a weak plot.
Dreamless focuses on the troubles and triumphs of mother-daughter pair Florencia and Eugenia, who live in a squalid apartment in the slums of an unnamed Argentina city. Florencia gave birth to her daughter while in high school, provoking permanent bitterness between herself and her mother, a wealthy psychiatrist who is unable to deal with her daughter’s flaws. Florencia’s mother reluctantly pays for her daughter’s living expenses so she will not have to work, but often cuts payments when Florencia messes up. Florencia rebels against her mother’s controlling parenting by constantly testing her patience. She uses cocaine and has unprotected sex with innumerable shady characters, confident that her scandalized mother will pay for her abortions.
Florencia’s rebellion against her mother’s bourgeois values – which her self-imposed exile to the slums authenticates – could be seen as admirable, if somewhat over the top. Yet Eugenia, who is nine years old at the start of the film, inadvertently draws attention to the cracks in her mother’s moral framework. Florencia is totally inadequate as Eugenia’s mother. Engrossed in her own angst, she seems to forget that by martyring herself she has also condemned her innocent daughter to a deprived life. Often, it is Eugenia who must mother Florencia, shaking her out of a mid-afternoon hangover for a parent-teacher interview, or convincing her to get a job so that they can pay their gas bills. Eugenia’s circumstance is rendered truly tragic by her ignorance of her own condition. For Eugenia, life is a constant party, despite the slaps she receives for the cocaine in the kitchen sugar bowl. “We are what we are, and we’re happy,” she tells her shocked grandmother at one point. Towards the end of the film, Eugenia gets her first period. The symbolic step towards adolescence, made all the more significant by the fact that her mother has apparently never told her about menstruation, reminds the viewer that while Eugenia might be having fun now, the deficiencies of her childhood threaten to make growing up a disaster.
But the critique implicit in directors’ Martin Desalvo and Vera Fogwill film lacks a sense of cohesive direction. At times, Dreamless veers towards social commentary, when themes of poverty and social justice flare up and Florencia and Eugenia momentarily appear to be victims of circumstance. At others, it’s a cynical portrait of Argentine youth, particularly during one scene where Florencia psychoanalyses herself while lounging in a lawn chair, sporting Ray Bans and smoking a cigarette. She’s so cool she’s bored with being cool. During these times, Eugenia is kind of tucked away in a corner, an inconvenient reminder of how extraordinarily selfish Dreamless’s main character really is.
Dreamless is not only unable to fully develop either of these themes; it is also a poorly crafted narrative. It’s unclear that Florencia comes from a wealthy family until well into the film. And even though Dreamless explores motherhood, her relationship with Eugenia is never resolved, though the birth of her second child seems to instantly place her on higher moral ground. In a conversation with her mother, she haughtily explains her cocaine-addled theory of non-parenting as some form of idealized anarchist motherhood. Wait, what? Our little tragic heroine is still sailing happily and blindly into impending disaster when she waves us goodbye, preceding the film’s climactic final scene that ends on a note of disillusionment.
With Dreamless, Desalvo and Fogwill have created a colourful, creative film; the lush cinematography keeps us from ever getting bored. To their credit, every character in the film is wonderfully crafted, made believable by their flaws, yet the film is a tangle of loose ends. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, Dreamless loses its way and stumbles off the path again. After watching it, one is left frustrated and confused, yet, at the same time, somewhat charmed. A head scratcher, but a pretty one.
Kept and Dreamless plays as part of Festivalissimo at 9 p.m. on March 23 at Cinema du Parc (3575 Parc). Visit cinemaduparc.com for information.