Forced to leave the family she has lived with as a maid for the past twenty years, Teresa (Paulina García) journeys across the South American desert to begin her life anew with a family in a new city. In her travels she meets ‘El Gringo’ (Claudio Rissi), a travelling salesman who helps her begin to care for herself as she has cared for others all these years.
It is a tough ask to pick out more than a select few films from mainstream cinema that centre around a middle-aged, female protagonist. If nothing else, THE DESERT BRIDE is a refreshing look at a character and demographic often marginalized in film. That being said, the film has plenty more to offer than simply shunning Hollywood conventions. The Patagonian landscape in which the majority of the film is set is simply stunning, captured magnificently by directors Cecilia Atán and Valeria Pivato. To praise the cinematography solely on the beauty of the film’s location would be unfair, however – beauty is found as much in the small eccentricities of rural Latin America and the grizzled characters that inhabit it, as it is in the grand desert vistas.
With so much screen-time devoted to her, much of the success of the film rests on García. She delivers a wonderful, understated performance that fully encapsulates the child-like innocence of a woman who has been in stasis for the past twenty years. As her experience in the desert goes on, we see her visibly unwind, shedding the layers of repression and obedience that have built up during her years of servitude.
Equally important to the film in his role as catalyst for Teresa’s growth as a character, Rissi is excellent as Julio ‘El Gringo’ Corvalán. Riding a fine line perfectly between comic-relief and moments of genuine dramatic tenderness, he provides most of the film’s humour, whilst remaining a well-rounded, sympathetic character. The chemistry between the two leads throughout the film is one of its main strengths, with each the perfect foil for the other, and their experiences on the road together provide the film’s most memorable moments.
THE DESERT BRIDE is a methodical and ponderous character study, which of course is not for everyone. Having said that, despite threatening to at various points, it never lingers too long as dramas are wont to do, and if anything is a little shorter than expected. Like all great dramas it is littered with lovely sprinkles of comedy alongside the heavy dramatic moments, and the audience was chuckling throughout. All in all this makes the film a thoroughly enjoyable experience, worthy of its recognition at the Cannes Film Festival where it was officially selected for an ‘Un Certain Regard’ screening.