Homework (la tarea)
Vanguard // Unrated // $29.95 // September 24, 2002
Review by DVD Savant | posted November 5, 2002
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Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

There's no editor listed on Tarea; the whole movie has fewer cuts than Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. Of course, it's a lot easier making a movie with so few cuts when 98% of the picture has one camera angle. Just one. Tarea is a stunt film with some claim to relevance, but not a lot. Made immediately after Steven Soderberg's Sex Lies and Videotape, it seeks to relate sex and video directly to the voyeuristic experience. What starts as perhaps a new take on sexual politics, a la WR: Mysteries of the Organism, instead devolves into a strict exercise in Peeping Tommery, al estilo Mexicano.


Adult film student Virginia (Maria Rojo) hides a professional video camera in the corner of her studio, for the purpose of secretly recording the entire visit of Marcelo (Josť Alonso), a man she had a brief affair with four years before. She maneuvers him into the right place and eventually confesses that she invited him for sex; he thinks that's a great idea but neither of them have a condom. Much discussion of sexual anxiety follows, and it looks like the deed is about to be recorded on tape, when Marcelo suddenly realizes that that camera in the corner is activated and rolling tape ...

Tarea is the kind of film that works as an idea, but can't help being exactly the thing it wants to make an enlightened statement about, pornography lite. At first, Virginia's strange 'homework' assignment appears to be a daring cinematic statement that will surely shock her classmates and cause no end of controversy. Her instructions are to record something without cuts, and her plan is to break about 5 taboos at once while simultaneously liberating herself from all sexual inhibitions. The seduction is planned for the floor right in front of the camera; she 'directs' the film by getting Marcelo to talk about condoms and his ideas on sex.

Except for a couple of brief shots of Virginia making preparations, the whole show is seen from the one floor angle, and with that limitation we should be impressed at the staging that keeps things interesting - if the 'hook' weren't an obvious salacious wait for things to get steamy. Maria does strip a couple of times from her 'red alligator dress'; and there's eventually full frontal nudity on both of their parts, and some (possibly) real sex in a hammock. Naturally, we're all interested in exactly what sense Virginia's documentary can posssibly make, when she claims to be so inhibited and shy - who's she going to show this thing to?

There's a twist ending that's fairly easy to see coming, if one knows the full title of the film. It comes as a disappointment to find out that (spoiler) Virginia and Marcelo (spoiler, really, now) are actually man and wife, and that the whole 'homework' business is just an intimate marital game. The inference is that a healthy sex life in a happy marriage needs something spicy to make it work, and this couple has found their own solution.

It's a trite windup for what we hoped would be profound, and the rather classy, well acted and smartly designed film seems especially trashy afterwards. Are the filmmakers condoning this behavior - couples trying to jazz up their love lives with homemade pornography? That's not very encouraging. The couple jokes at the end about selling the tapes they make as. They're apparently just reveling in a fantasy of becoming big-time sex stars, but commercial pornography is the next logical step. My mailbox often gets unsolicited Emails from supposed couples offering to show pictures of themselves making love, and I don't see anything liberating or healthy about that.

Obviously, whatever works in a relationship, works, but Tarea is a stunt with a surprise ending that seems even more exploitative than a straight sex film. The obvious reason it was produced was its unusually low requirement for production resources: one set, one camera setup, no editor needed. Just an unusually committed pair of actors. The film won a special mention at the Moscow Film Festival in 1991.

Vanguard's DVD of Tarea is a handsome-looking transfer of this one-angle movie. It's flat; the color is good with only a bit of watermarking from the developer about 4/5ths of the way through. The subtitles cannot be removed, which is something of a bummer. The movie is shot on film even though the stationary camera on the floor is a video machine. In maybe 5 places, there are jumpcuts when people exit the frame or go into other rooms; because of the locked-off angle, these are more distracting than the elaborate devices to mask the cuts in Rope.

The cover art is reasonably erotic, with a synopsis in English and Spanish on the back. The English translation of the full title is muffed on the jacket back: 'How Pornography Saved the Split Family from Boredom and Improved their Financial'.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Tarea rates:
Movie: Fair+
Video: Very Good
Sound: Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep Case
Reviewed: November 5, 2002

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