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The Lips (Los Labios)

Distributed by Magic Lantern Films, PO Box 8567, New York, NY 10116; 646-926-6760
Producer n/a
Directed by Ivan Lund and Santiago Losa
DVD , color, 100 min.
College - General Adult
Film Studies, Latin American Studies

Reviewed by Oksana Dykyj, Head, Visual Media Resources, Concordia University, Montreal

Date Entered: 1/15/2013

According to the press kit for The Lips (Los Labios), the film is “a way of approaching cinema in order to get to another place. It is also a film about companionship (...) The camera goes to encounter the people. It gets close to their faces and bodies, revealing their instant and truth.” The film did in fact win the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival Certain Regard section. It was shared by the three female leads and the plot revolves around their trip to an impoverished rural area of Argentina to take on governmental social work. They are far more than social workers, having nurse practitioner skills to deal with immunizations, pre-natal care and emergency health evaluations.

What is unique about this film is the manner in which it weaves dramatic fiction film techniques with non-fiction documentary approaches: The women ride a bus to the area where they will be working as a team, are taken to a dilapidated and abandoned former hospital which they are to make into their living quarters, and are driven to various neighborhoods where they help families in a variety of ways. Their relationship with each other and all that occurs outside their work is presented in the “fiction film” mode in terms of editing and framing. Their work and dealings with the people they help is presented in a documentary fashion where non-actors portray themselves and reveal their own lives and hardships. These scenes are shot in a documentary fashion relying on moving the camera and close reaction shots. The filmmakers are able to mesh together the two methods of fiction and non-fiction in a cleverly woven film.

Initially there are no lead characters as each woman is equally presented and allowed to develop. There are no Hollywoodian dramatic events to turn the plot around and lead it to a climax. There are no revelations of backstories where the audience is told why one of the women finds her work to be so difficult that she is given to crying fits. The film is a simple portrait of 3 women working together, revealing themselves to each other slowly and to the audience at the same time. Questions are left unanswered as they would be in a Fred Wiseman documentary. The camera does get close to their faces, as the filmmakers announce in their press-kit, and it provides the kind of immediacy that has been popular for a number of years in the tightly framed close-ups found in the films of the Dardenne brothers among others. This is a method that gives the look of a documentary in fiction films. The film thus continues the contemporary tradition of docudrama. Recommended for Latin American studies and film studies areas as well as for anyone interested in contemporary Argentinian film.