' ' Cinema Romantico: The Sharks

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Sharks

Among the most famous movie opening scenes is undoubtedly “Jaws.” You know, comely young woman goes for a swim at dawn, gets eaten by shark, it’s terrifying. It’s not just the shark circling her from below, though, it’s the camera. Granted, Steven Spielberg is not the kind of director, I don’t think, to get consciously caught up in the notion of the Male Gaze, but this scene demonstrates how that Male Gaze is inherently prevalent in a man’s camera whether he’s conscious of it or not. In a sense, “The Sharks” turns that notion around. Not for nothing does it begin with its young Uruguayan protagonist, Rosina (Romina Bentancur), running down a seaside road, looking over her shoulder. She’s running away from her father, yes, but she may as well be running away from the camera itself. She reaches the ocean and steps a few feet out into the water. Her father stands on the shore, pleading for her to come back. She does but not before casting her eyes toward the sea, her arms drawn up against her, as if suggesting she does not want to be seen, as if sensing something is out there. As she wades back to shore, the camera picks up a dorsal fin emerging from the water. And though ensuing events suggest the sharks in these waters are real, the electronica music that explodes on the soundtrack at the brief glimpse of this fin seems to suggest otherwise, or at least suggest the tangible and metaphorical might blur into something else altogether.  

Rosina, we learn, was running away because she attacked her sister, leaving such a prominent scar around her sister’s eye that she’s wearing an eyepatch. Like many of the exact details in “The Sharks”, what caused this violent outburst remains unexplained, but when Rosina says she is sorry, the way in which Bentancur says it makes it difficult to believe her character means it. Rosina’s home life is noisy and cramped. Her father worries over money, her mother worries over a lack of running of water and trying to get a beauty salon up and running in their home. All of these details feel lived in but also beside the point, hardly making a mark on Rosina, introverted almost to the point of being incommunicative. Her clothes are markedly at odds with her sister’s, not so much boyish as nondescript, bulky shorts and tee shirts that virtually subsume her, like she doesn’t want herself to be seen. Director Lucía Garibaldi’s camera frequently underscores this idea in outdoor scenes, wide frames where Rosina can disappear amid the landscape, though at home the camera is frequently right in her face, blocking out everyone else as if they don’t matter. 

If Rosina’s fashion sense suggests a tamping down of her sexuality, she still possesses urges. Taking a landscaping job at her father’s behest, she becomes smitten with Joselo (Federico Morosini), a slightly older boy. Initially he reciprocates, though a scene in which they fool around takes a tawdry turn. Like the scenes at home, Garibaldi keeps the camera locked in close-up on Rosina’s face as Joselo pleasures himself just off screen, issuing her commands, the camera placement underlining how in this moment he literally reduces her to nothing more than an object of his gaze. And when he’s done, he’s essentially done with her. That the character treats Rosina halfway-politely in their subsequent scenes only fuels the heartbreak. 

As “The Sharks” progresses, the more the literal beasts fade into the background, as the locals quests to find them and kill them mostly occur offscreen while the purported slowdown of tourism is just mentioned, never shown. No, the real predator and prey becomes Rosina and Joselo, after he spurns her, a metaphor which works because it never becomes overwrought. Then again, Rosina’s state of mind as she messes with an unknowing Joselo is inscrutable almost to the point of frustration; you long for some insight into her state of mind. But Garibaldi is content to let her actions speak for themselves, which grow bolder and more deranged, culminating with a sequence on the beach and in the water that might make one ask how no one sees her, though that’s the point, her presence unnoticed when it’s not in the context of physical attractiveness. And the closing shot repeats the opening one, just flipped, with Rosina not running away but marching straight toward the camera, toward us. Ye been warned. 

No comments: