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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Vidas Privadas
Vidas Privadas
Fox // Unrated // January 11, 2005
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted December 29, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

There are good movies, there are great movies, and there are movies that defy conventional description. Unfortunately for the latter, that could swing in either direction. As in, some movies are so unbelievably awful that you are left wondering just what in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin' on here. Such is the case with Vidas Privadas (Private Lives), a woefully misguided and generally terrible Argentine film from director/musician Fito Páez and starring the usually stellar Cecelia Roth and Gael García Bernal.

The film centers on the character of Carmen Uranga (Roth), who returns to Argentina from Madrid after being away for 20 years. Her father is dying from a heart ailment, and she is in town to work out arrangements with several of his properties before he dies. Carmen has no real attachments to her immediate family: her mother Sofia (Chunchuna Villafañe) is portrayed as a cold, somewhat aloof and dispassionate woman, while her younger sister Ana (the delicious Dolores Fonzi) is the only one in the family displaying any sense of vivid warmth. Carmen herself is played as a passionless, sterile shrew: she lacks any ability to generate intimacy with anyone. Her sexual gratification is derived through masturbation while listening to others copulating in another room. Such is the case when she meets up with Gustavo (Bernal), a young model and gigolo whom Carmen hires to copulate with a young woman while Carmen listens. Carmen soon instructs Gustavo to arrive without the young lady, and read passages from erotic novels while she masturbates, the two separated by a wall and never meeting face-to-face. At first, anyhow... for soon their relationship takes a turn towards the intimate, both emotionally and physically.

But as always, there are secrets to uncover in this story. Twenty-two years earlier, Carmen was rounded up and imprisoned by the Argentine regime, tortured and held in darkness and captivation for 10 months. A secret about her incarceration is revealed, which leads into an even bigger twist in the story that (a) couldn't be any more obvious if it tried, and (b) strives for emotional poignancy but derives little but groans and unintentional laughter.

The main problem with Vidas Privadas is that the film lacks direction. Is it a thriller? Not really; if so, it's not a particularly good one. How about a drama? It might have worked, if the filmmakers hadn't decided on making the film as creepy as possible. Paez's use of music is probably the most awful aesthetic decision made in the movie; monotonous and sudden piano crescendos might have worked in Eyes Wide Shut, but here they do nothing except for maybe keeping the audience from falling asleep. The direction is flat and lifeless; the film was shot with little flair or style, which would have been fine if the story were compelling enough (which it isn't). Even the actors are squandered in this story. I became the biggest Cecelia Roth fanboy after watching her devastatingly phenomenal performance in Almodovar's Todo Sobre Mi Madre, and in this film she seems stiff, unconvincing, and flat. The same goes for Gael Garcia Bernal, who has been amazing in other films - even in lesser films like El Crimen de Padre Amaro, in which he shined amidst some rather clichéd material - but he leaves no mark on the film here. Overall, this film is a complete and utter disappointment. Everyone involved can (and has) done much better work elsewhere.

The DVD

Video:

Vidas Privadas   is presented in a widescreen aspect ratio of 1.851, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing cosmic hoohah. The video is acceptable, but not exceptional or notable. Sharpness is the major problem, with the majority of the transfer looking pretty soft. Shadow detail is lacking, and contrasts suffer in darker scenes. A climactic scene that takes place in low-lit shadows looks murky, weak, and flat. Colors are acceptable, and there is little-to-no noise, pixellation, or artifacting.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in its original Spanish language soundtrack, with an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 dub in English. The dub is one of the worst I've heard, and should be avoided like the plague. Anyway, the OSL sounds decent enough, with clarity in the soundtrack and decent range to the score. There is some use of the surrounds to open up the sound a bit, but overall this is a moderately engaging although clean sounding mix.

Extras:

Special features include trailers for the film as well as one for Cleopatra.

Final Thoughts:

If you love foreign cinema, the work of Cecelia Roth, or a powerfully shot and engaging movie, by all means please rent Hable con Ella and avoid this movie. It's not just bad - Vidas Privadas is just plain awful. Skip this DVD with all available speed and certainty.

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