REVIEW: Los tiburones [The Sharks] [2019]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 80 minutes
    Release Date: June 6th, 2019 (Uruguay)
    Studio: Breaking Glass Pictures
    Director(s): Lucía Garibaldi
    Writers(s): Lucía Garibaldi

Did you catch anything?

When we first meet fourteen-year old Rosina (Romina Bentancur), she’s running away from her actions. Down through the trees she goes, heading towards the beach as someone chases behind. We soon learn that her pursuer is her father (Fabián Arenillas‘ Joaquin) and her crime is hurting her sister Mariana (Antonella Aquistapache). She says it was an accident and he believes it was, but we can tell she’s speaking more about the injury than the deed. No one wants to maim a sibling no matter how frustrated they are, but that doesn’t mean pain wasn’t Rosina’s intent. With everyone on high alert thanks to a lengthy drought and their coast’s impending tourist season, it’s difficult to corral one’s temper. Sometimes you simply smell blood in the water and pounce.

So when writer/director Lucía Garibaldi has Rosina look back to see a dorsal fin surface and disappear directly before the title of her film Los Tiburones’ [The Sharks] crashes on-screen, it proves less a harbinger of things to come and more a congratulatory wink. No one believes the girl when she says what she saw anyway—even after a sea lion carcass is found washed ashore a couple days later. This town never had sharks before and the prospect is too dangerous to think about considering the economic strife shutting down might spark. Between a lack of fish, warmer water, and the notion that there’s a first time for everything, however, all signs point to the obvious. It’s simply easier to continue believing the beach is safe.

It’s the exact same thing we do with children despite the chaos of adolescence. Joaquin and his wife (Valeria Lois) want to think their kids are still the innocent girls that ran around the house less than a decade prior, but that’s not how any of this works. Mariana is talking about sex with friends at the bus stop instead of studying for her college entry exam and Rosina is lusting after the older boy (Federico Morosini‘s Joselo) who works for her father. And while the other employees laboring to ready the shore for the summer season laugh at Rosina’s youth and inexperience when she’s forced to help, her crush is young enough to notice her interest. He’s also old enough to know acting on it means trouble.

The moment he balks is the moment their roles reverse. Joselo might have stoked the fire burning inside Rosina to pounce on the opportunity regardless of her age and relationship to his boss, but his abrupt change of heart ignites an inferno of retribution. This girl is sick of being dismissed as a child who doesn’t know better. Rosina watches politicized YouTube videos to educate herself about adult topics and consciously flirts with Joselo, intent on following her sister’s footsteps towards a sexual encounter. His dismissal therefore hurts on an emotional and psychological level. His flirting with other girls adds jealousy to the equation. And his refusal to set the record straight with friends about what actually happened breaks all resolve. Now she’s the one stalking for prey.

The title is thus pure metaphor despite there being literal sharks looming in the background. How those fish impact the neighborhood and ratchet up anxiety is important for external motivations, but Rosina is just trying to live her life at a moment where worrying about such things doesn’t bear any weight in her day-to-day. She wants to learn who Joselo is and force him to look her way again. Maybe that means maneuvering her whereabouts to his or staging circumstances that lead him to lose his dog and thus need to find it with her help. That’s the drama that matters most—not if her sister gets into the school she wants or if her mother’s hair removal business takes flight. This is about fulfilling her current desires.

Garibaldi therefore succeeds in the mission set forth by her director’s statement as far as wanting to make a film that simply and directly depicted a moment in time for her lead character. Bentancur’s audition tape was the first she saw of many, but her casting was never in question (except for when financing proved tough and the girl was beginning to age out of the part Garibaldi rewrote to cater to her). The whole feels very personal as a result because it allows the first-time actor to be her authentic self and truly embody a role that she and the filmmaker could understand from their own experiences as young women going through puberty. With the male gaze removed, everything can unfold naturally with relatable awkwardness and appetite.

That’s what drives Rosina. She wants what she wants and is unsure how to get it. So there are times when she stumbles and others when those around her do. And she’s constantly doing the wrong thing for what her mind believes are the right reasons (see risking Joselo’s dog’s life to ensure she can manipulate his attention), but we find ourselves hoping things will work out—not to lose her virginity, but to realize this boy isn’t worth the effort. Rosina is testing her boundaries and learning from what occurs after crossing them. Where there was fear about such lessons at the start, however, she’s much more confident by the end. Rather than run, Rosina watches the aftermath. Rather than worry about repercussions, she smiles with delight.

courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures

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