Paula Markowich’s El Primio features standout natural acting performances. It is an autobiographical story of a mother (Paula Galinelli Hertzog) and her seven-year-old daughter (Laura Agorreca) hiding from Argentinean oppressive government forces (circa 1970s).
The seven-year-old must keep a secret, but doesn’t understand the severity of it. She is told to say, “My father sells curtains and my mother is a housewife,” and in one memorable scene she responds with this to every question her friend Silvia asks her – even if it doesn’t answer the “Where does your dad live?”
The child is more intelligent than her peers and often tutors them. It seems she’s wise beyond her years, yet the films portrayal of her innocence and misunderstanding add a certain complexity that the young actress managed to capture. She’s consistently fidgety, rolling down sand dunes and jumping across the furniture, but she seems to carry some realization of danger seen in the way she observes the world and her mother. It’s curious how the director could pull such a great acting job out of such a youngster.
The idea of telling this story through the eyes of the seven year-old makes the familiar story line of oppression and isolation from powerful forces, a fresh and evocative concept. It is a well-thought script, and a wonderfully told story.
And the acting! Hertzog pertains a certain quality of fear and presence of anxiety throughout the whole film. She’s warm, protective and all her expression is held in her frantic eyes. Her emotional scenes, and climactic breakdowns were passionate and truly believable. It might be surprising to hear that it was her first acting job.
The setting of the film is dismal, but fitting. The pair lives in a shanty on the beach with windows missing and water coming in under the door in the bleak midwinter with grey skies. They are alone and isolated with just each other representative of the mother’s emotional state.
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