Kept and Dreamless
English Title: Kept and Dreamless
Original Title: Las mantenidas sin sueños
Country of Origin: Argentina
Studio: Avalon Productions, Hubert Bals Fund, INCAA
Producer(s): Axel Pauls
Screenplay: Vera Fogwill
Cinematographer: Nicolás Trovato
Art Director: Daniela Podcaminsky
Editor: Rosario Suárez
Runtime: 97 minutes
Genre: Modern Families
Colour, 35 mm
Eugenia would like nothing better than to behave like the nine-year-old that she is, but with her pregnant mother, Florencia, spending her days in a drug-induced stupor, the child is forced to be the caretaker. She gets creative running the household while relying on an elderly neighbour named Olga. She also appreciates the sporadic phone calls and gifts from her absent father, Martín. After Eugenia nearly consumes some cocaine stored in a sugarbowl, and is repeatedly rejected by potential employers for being underage, Florencia realises she needs to take some responsibility. She starts by working as a maid for her wealthy and self-centered former schoolmate, Celina, who despite her apparent success is deeply unhappy in an abusive marriage. Florencia’s mother Sara does not miss a chance to express her deep disappointment in her daughter’s failure to live up to her expectations. Meanwhile, Olga goes to extraordinary lengths to visit her grown children in Europe, and Martín’s elderly mother Lola gets evicted from her apartment. As the adults commiserate about their personal failures and the social collapse that surrounds them, Eugenia longs to be reunited with Martín and to escape the chaotic world she inhabits.
Kept and Dreamless explores female relationships and survival strategies in the wake of Argentina’s catastrophic financial crisis of 2001. Set in the deserted ruins of Buenos Aires’s marginal neighbourhoods, the crumbling buildings and vacant lots make the characters appear to be the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic world in which public institutions have ceased to function and the family unit has almost completely disintegrated. Eugenia and Florencia join forces with neighbours, friends, and relatives whose lives are in various stages of self-destruction. There is plenty of blame to go around in this comedy-drama whose similarities with Pedro Almodóvar’s Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios/Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) seem more than coincidental. Like the iconic Spanish film, Kept and Dreamless uses camera filters to emphasize recurring shades of red and pink in quirky costumes and fashionably designed interior sets. And like Almodóvar, Fogwill and Desalvo rely on an all-star cast to explore female psychology. The comedy in Kept and Dreamless also seems inspired by the Spanish director’s bizarre wit, with a series of very funny scenes – Olga faking her own death, Lola explaining to Eugenia how to use a tampon, Florencia sweeping dirt under Celina’s Persian rug – that deftly balances the serious underlying themes of hopelessness, disappointment and abandonment.
In her debut performance, Snieg holds her own against seasoned actors Díaz, Berenguer and Busnelli, at times upstaging them with her masterful delivery of lines written to make her sound more mature than she is. Bitter, because they have been lied to all their lives, the adults in the film feel victimised. They forget that the real victim is this girl whose childhood has been taken away. Eugenia’s character is typical of films about children in Argentina (such as Alejandro Agresti’s Valentín, 2002 or Marcelo Piñeyro’s Kamchatka, 2002), which tend to portray them as inseparable from the traditional family with plots that revolve around the difficulties youths encounter when that ideal is damaged. These films serve as an implicit denunciation of Argentine society’s failure to proffer a viable model of the nation. By contrast, other Latin American directors – most notably Héctor Babenco in Brazil and Víctor Gaviria in Colombia – have turned the street urchin that exposes the stark consequences of orphanhood, drugs and urban violence into a regional icon.
Reminiscent of live theater, Kept and Dreamless relies heavily on dialogue for characterisation, and it shines in its twelve-minute climactic sequence, shot as the unrehearsed actors performed without knowledge of one another’s lines. In Florencia’s freshly-painted pink living-room, the main characters take turns venting their frustrations. The impromptu meeting turns into a scathing indictment of motherhood: Florencia’s lover is here because his ‘old lady is insufferable’; Celina confesses that she cannot stand her children and accusations rain upon Sara for her refusal to accept her daughter for who she is. A crushing admission by Sara that the efforts of her ‘hippie, militant’ generation to bring about freedom have been wasted by Florencia’s generation of unmotivated deadbeats without a ‘life project’ is emphatically countered by a chorus of young and old voices, among which Celina’s retort stands out: ‘They turned me into a lifeless project’.
Amidst the predominantly female cast, Florencia’s lover and Martín are presented as lazy and directionless. As the women – adrift though they are – redefine motherhood and family by relying on one another, the lover robs them while Martín heads for the countryside, having decided to live ‘responsibly on vacation’. But although friends and neighbours may provide support, sympathy and even comic relief, in the end blood proves thicker than water. Lola and Eugenia bond over an untimely menstruation while back in Buenos Aires Sara makes amends with Florencia as she gives birth. That these two events take place at the exact same time stresses the unbreakable ties between Florencia and Eugenia, whose bodies appear to be synchronised despite geographical separation.
An expanded version of this review was published as ‘No Longer Young: Childhood, Family, and Trauma in Las mantenidas sin sueños’ in Rocha, Carolina & Seminet, Georgia (eds) Representing History, Class, and Gender in Spain and Latin America, New York: Palgrave, 223-238.
Author of this review: Beatriz Urraca