THE HOUSE OF THE ANGEL (Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, 1957)

I have just added this entry to my list of the 100 Greatest Films from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, which you will find in two parts on this blogsite.

Adapting her own novel, La casa del ángel, Beatriz Guido gave spouse Leopoldo Torre Nilsson an excellent script; but it is Nilsson’s dark, precise, assured filmmaking that generated so memorably turbulent a result. The film also called End of Innocence sets 14-year-old Ana Castro’s coming-of-age amidst the flux of Argentinean mores and manners in the 1920s. Ana (Elsa Daniel, the epitome of adolescent sensitivity and confusion—at once lyrical and achingly real) comes from an aristocratic family; her father is a scheming politician, her mother a puritanical Roman Catholic fixated on maintaining her youngest daughter’s innocence. They live in a Wellesian/Amberson mansion that is beginning to decay; her aging nanny, who sometimes fails to suit her behavior to Ana’s mother’s strict line, is principally charged with Ana’s care. The back-to-back deaths of mother and nanny suggest a combinate loss for Ana—the loss of childhood.
     Guido’s intricate script meshes Ana’s reminiscing voiceover and the events she recalls. Pablo Aguirre, a young, handsome colleague of her father’s, shatters Ana’s sheltered world. Drawn into a situation where he feels compelled to defend family honor, Pablo will fight a duel to the death, with pistols, on the Castros’ grounds. At a dance in the mansion the night before his morning of reckoning, Pablo takes Ana into his arms—a phenomenal passage; afterwards, alone, Ana gazes into a mirror, attempting to search out signs of the utter transformation she feels. In truth, she has been infatuated with Pablo for quite a while.
     The multiplicity of shots from a fractious variety of camera angles suggests memory’s frustrated attempt to grasp an elusive, complex past.
     An Argentinean of Swedish descent, Torre Nilsson creates haunting poetry as his camera, seeking light, roams the mansion’s darkened rooms and halls.

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