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When documentary and fiction, realism and surrealism, comedy, tragedy, theatre, cinema, and Zoom entangle with Covid and family life, what happens?

Luciana Acuña and Alejo Moguillansky’s LA EDAD MEDIA (The Middle Ages)plunges in, releasing kinetic interactions between bodies, technologies, ideas, and dreams, refuting the doldrums of lockdown by way of an emboldened spirit of imagination.

LA EDAD MEDIA reimagines cinema during Covid as a mise en abyme to be unraveled, deconstructed, played with, and enjoyed. Media technologies—from mobile phones, computer screens, cameras, booms and microphones, to record players, headphones, books and telescopes—percolate throughout.

Entangled narratives

Self-reflexive strategies, powered by Zoom, infuse the casting. The filmmakers play themselves, alongside their daughter Cleo. Argentine artists appear throughout, including actor and director Lisandro Rodriguez, actor Lalo Rotaveria, screenwriter Walter Jakob, and composer Oscar Strasnoy as Cleo’s Zoom piano instructor. Acuña discusses the increased economic precarity of arts workers with her real-life creative partner, Luis Biasotto, on the computer; he tragically passed away from Covid in May 2021.

This film chronicles a family of three under lockdown in their Buenos Aires three-story home. The father is a filmmaker, the mother a dancer, and their ten-year-old daughter a student, scheming for a telescope.

Both parent’s fraught efforts to make art on computers, mobile phones, and Zoom during lockdown lead to wrangles and a general irascibility. Moguillansky directs Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” (1952) remotely, but encounters setbacks with actors and cinematography; Acuña badgers her Zoom dance students.

LA EDAD MEDIA proposes narrative as a collaboration where characters and concepts ricochet between the sublime, the philosophical, the fantastic, and the quotidian.

LA EDAD MEDIA liquifies this seemingly simple plot as it playfully torques genre and art cinema tropes. It proposes narrative as a collaboration where characters and concepts ricochet between the sublime, the philosophical, the fantastic, and the quotidian. The film wraps comedy around melodrama as it focuses on the family’s conflicts. Situated solely in a family home, characters move up and down stairs, travel between the dining room and the bathroom, and smoke on the roof. The mother boxes a punching bag hung in the dining room. The father reads lines from “Waiting for Godot” into his mobile phone. Cleo climbs to the rooftop patio to gaze at the moon.

Throughout Cleo’s pithy, wry voice-over analyzes her family's struggles. While existential angst traps her parents she, bored with Zoom schooling, dreams of the moon. Eventually she connects with a mysterious motorcyclist called Moto to secretly sell off objects in her home for money to buy her desired telescope. Cleo, whose name summons the Greek muse of history, emerges as the only character with agency that extends beyond the home.

Ruptured temporalities

In structure, LA EDAD MEDIA conjures chamber music, where a few players exchange melodic lines in intimate settings. Early on, a composition for strings on the film’s soundtrack hints at this allusion. However, Argentine canciones and rock music unsettle these classical music evocations, while Cleo’s halting, tentative piano playing drifts through the film, a reminder that in a pandemic we are all learning new pieces.

In structure, LA EDAD MEDIA conjures chamber music, where a few players exchange melodic lines in intimate settings.

Temporality is fractured and rendered meaningless by the endless lockdown. Superimposed on the sky, titles denote time but flout narrative coherency: “The Next Monday”, “Some time after”, “That same afternoon”, “Wednesday”, “Some weeks later.” In LA EDAD MEDIA, the moon never waxes or wanes; it is always full. Characters repeat a line from Beckett’sRockaby" (1981): “time she stopped”.

In LA EDAD MEDIA, the real and the surreal gradually commingle. A mysterious hazmat-suited man enters the home and emits smoke. Cleo’s spirit leaves her body, pining for a telescope. Cleo attacks her mother in a toy dart gun shoot out. Luciana, tripping on furniture, turns her annihilation into an avant-garde dance. Seen again and again, the moon, the sky, the dog, windows, doors, stairs, mirrors, books, screens, and money emerge as philosophical and political talismans. Eventually the home is emptied of nearly all of them and reduced to a bare stage.

Althoughpermeated withhome and family LA EDAD MEDIA transcends home movie vernaculars, namely its commitment to exquisitely composed tableau shots that reject the hand-held. The camera holds on long takes of domestic scenes, suggesting decelerated time: the family dines together at a table; Cleo talks to her father in the shower; mother and daughter lounge on the rooftop patio. For all of the energy that percolates through the film—be it Alejo’s intense directing, Luciana’s continual body movements, or Cleo’s entrepreneurial schemes that set the entire home into a state of entropy—actions remain contained within the filmmakers’ fixed, measured frames.

The title, LA EDAD MEDIA, translated in English as The Middle Ages, raises unanswered questions. Does it reference the Middle Ages and the bubonic plague? Does it mark Cleo’s age, on the cusp of adolescence? Does it name the unresolved current moment, suspended in the middle between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic life, art, and cinema?  It’s up to you to decide.

Patricia R. Zimmermann is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Screen Studies at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, USA and author of ten books on screen history and theory.

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