A gift for games that can’t carry over into life


on June 02, 2011 by Matthew Nestel

A housewife (María Onetto, Headless Woman), berthed to a lengthy domestic sentence, discovers she's a savant when it comes to solving complex puzzles. What seems like a harmless hobby bewitches the faithful wife and mother of two grown sons. The course taken by Argentinean director Natalia Smirnoff is unorthodox; the good girl is not so good here. And when a victory is meted out it goes down like runny egg yolk. Abolishing obvious innuendo and employing a deft handling of script and character, the film has all the fixings to play like a sleeper in arthouses.

Maria del Carmen (Onetto) has the touch. She kneads bread dough like a master baker and cooks feast after feast with tireless magic, but she's spent. When throwing a bash for her family and friends she slips and breaks a porcelain plate. Her demanding hubby Juan (Gabriel Goetz) orders her to fetch extra salami even though she's well onto icing the cake. Only when she blows out the candles do we realize it's her birthday.

The night of the party she receives an advanced puzzle featuring Queen Nefertiti's likeness. She attacks the game like a child first takes to running. Juan is not keen on his wife's new distraction; after hardworking days selling car parts he wants the fridge stocked and his coitus on-demand. Quickly, Maria falls into the rip tide of puzzle sport and the secure arms of puzzle champ Roberto (Arturo Goetz). Convinced he's lucked onto a puzzle phenom, Roberto takes her as his teammate to train for a tournament.

Missteps are calculated. Maria feels she has immunity when it comes to her conduct, and in a sense you could side with her because her sons are grown and no longer reliant on her. They have plans with girls, college and trips to India. She maintains a spark with her husband but he is cross when it comes to her passion for puzzles. So many hours spent together in Roberto's enchanting abode, enjoying his priceless confidence frays her loyalty. She's slowly revealed to be a guiltless soul and commutes her own sentence. But suppose she denied her talent? What then? If Maria listened to her family of disbelievers what would becomes of her? She'd remain under house arrest. However brief her slip from and return to home, the experience carries a heavy burden. One might be good at solving puzzles but lacks the salt to decode the game of life.

Distributor: IFC/Sundance Selects
Cast: María Onetto, Gabriel Goity, Arturo Goetz, Henny Trayles, Felipe Villanueva
Director/Screenwriter: Natalia Smirnoff
Producers: Gabriel Pastore, Caroline Dhainaut, Luis A. Sartor, Natalia Smirnoff

Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: May 27 NY

Tags: María Onetto, Gabriel Goity, Arturo Goetz, Henny Trayles, Felipe Villanueva, Natalia Smirnoff, Gabriel Pastore, Caroline Dhainaut, Luis A. Sartor

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