FRAMELINE I've had a bit of a crush on the young Argentine actress Inés Efron since Frameline31, when she played one corner of the teen love triangle in Alexis Dos Santos' Glue (2006). There was something in the way Efron used her gangly build and heavy-lidded eyes to telegraph her character's mix of trembling desire and adolescent ungainliness that brought to mind Kids-era Chloë Sevigny.
Efron's ability to allow her physicality to articulate what her characters can't would be even more fiercely on display when she returned to Frameline the following year, front and center, as the conflicted, intersexed youth Alex in another equally strong Argentine debut, Lucía Puenzo's XXY (2007). Efron is back at Frameline this year, as is Puenzo, in the director's sophomore effort, The Fish Child. The film actually made its festival debut last year, in one of the last-minute TBA slots, but fans of the duo's previous collaboration would do well to catch its proper run this time around.
Part cross-class lesbian love story, part crime telenovella (with a touch of magical realism), The Fish Child is a flashy departure from XXY's brooding coming-of-age character study. Puenzo displays a tight grasp of the film's various narrative strands as it jumps back and forth across time and geographic borders (she did adapt the script from her own novel, after all), but much of the film's emotional impact comes from the performances of its leads.
Looking ever more the gamine, Efron plays Lala, the teen daughter of a wealthy Buenos Aires judge (Pep Munné), who is as in love with the household's 20-year-old Paraguayan maid Ailin (Mariela Vitale) as her father is. Lala and Ailin's dream of escaping to Lake Ypoa in Paraguay, Ailin's childhood home, becomes complicated when Ailin winds up in jail and Lala flees to Ypoa alone, where she discovers more about her lover's damaged past. Efron's Lala lets us be sympathetic to her love for Ailin even as we see the ways in which her star-eyed optimism about their future life is as enabled by the privilege she refuses to acknowledge as it is by raw passion. She's a rebel with a cause, but she just can't 'fess up to it yet.
As Efron grows older, it's going to become harder for her to keep convincingly playing the hormonally-charged and dissolute (see also her supporting role in another recent Argie art house hit, Lucrecia Martel's 2008 The Headless Woman). Clearly, though, she has a good agent and even better instincts. I'm excited to see what she does next.
THE FISH CHILD
Thurs/22, 9:30 p.m., Elmwood
Fri/25, 9:30 p.m., Roxie