[original title: Julia y el zorro]
Julia and the Fox is an Argentine drama that is difficult to describe. It depicts an unusual woman going through the stages of grief. But since she is an unusual woman, these stages may not necessarily all be the usual ones, and not necessarily be in the usual order.
Julia, an actress, lost her husband in a car accident in which she was involved as well. We do not learn how long ago this was, but it is clear that she has stayed away from the family’s country house (close to where the accident happened) ever since. Now, however, she has returned, accompanied by her 12-year-old daughter, because the house is in a state of disrepair and Julia would like to sell it rather than deal with it.
Since Julia is unable to deal with her grief, she is also unable to deal with or support her daughter appropriately. And even at the best of times Julia was probably never a candidate for the mother-of-the-year award – and she is well aware of that.
The entire film revolves exclusively around the lead character’s struggles and around the relationship she has (or hasn’t) with her daughter.
This is Inés María Barrionuevo’s second feature film as a writer and director, after the acclaimed coming-of-age drama Atlántida (2014). For the mother-daughter relationship, Barrionuevo could draw on her own experiences. Her relationship with her own mother was fraught, and that between her mother and her grandmother has also seen major upsets.
Since Julia is a stage actress and since there are key scenes which involve stage performance and dancing, Barrionuevo was looking for an actress who was also an experienced dancer. And she says that she knew immediately that Umbra Colombo was the right actress for the role as soon as Colombo turned up for the audition.
The actress playing Julia’s daughter Emma, Victoria Castelo Arzubialde, is someone Barrionuevo had worked with before. Barrionuevo knew about the young girl’s immense acting talents; and casting a child actor one has worked with before of course takes a lot of question marks off the table that one might have to worry about otherwise – for example regarding the acting, the discipline, the stamina, etc. Apart from Emma, who is almost a leading character in her own right, there is only one supporting role of substance: Julia’s friend and colleague Gaspar, played effortlessly by Pablo Limarzi.
Barrionuevo’s writing process included adjusting the characters in the script slightly after casting so that they would be an even better fit for the actors. The performances by the cast are outstanding, and I will give the director and her process shared credit for that.
The country house that Barrionuevo was able to film in plays a big part in creating the film’s atmosphere. The house is big and elegant, but it also shows signs of stasis as well as signs of decay. It therefore not only inspires the atmosphere, but also mirror’s Julia’s state of mind. And as it seems like an illustration of middle-class decline, it also might be seen – if you are so inclined – as an allegory for the continual state of crisis and decay that Argentina has found itself in for the past two decades.
Julia and the Fox is a drama about grief that defies the usual categories. The story is not “satisfying” in the common sense, because in the end nothing is really resolved – neither the grief, nor the mother-daughter relationship issues. But perhaps this is precisely what makes this film so interesting and powerful – and the performances alone are reason enough to check out this film, which will have its official commercial release in Argentina on November 29th 2018.
Rating: 7.0 to 7.5 out of 10