Thursday 30 July 2020

40 going on 14: "Again Once Again"

This risks sounding like a double-edged compliment, but it's not meant as such: Again Once Again is what a Lena Dunham film might play like with another decade of life experience behind it. The Argentinian author and actress Romina Paula writes, directs and plays a version of herself as a fortysomething who's relocated with her young son to her German mother's place in Buenos Aires after encountering problems with her long-term partner. Whether this represents a formal separation or just an extended vacation is one of the things she's here to work out, initiating a series of gently naturalistic interactions with the people in her life. To some degree, she's reinventing herself - we watch as she takes German lessons with a potential suitor, trying to reconnect with her roots; she hits the town again, sharing a lingering kiss with a drunken girlfriend - although the circularity inscribed in the title is the first hint Romina is revisiting her adolescence, a regression underlined by a shot framing her and pals against a playground jungle gym. Should we survive the coming years, future film historians are going to marvel at how rapidly this field of cinematic study expanded. No longer is it just manchildren in their thirties failing to stand on their own two feet, here come the women in their forties to share a joint with them. Why, it's almost as if society had a system in place that instilled a deep-seated insecurity in its citizens, that prioritised economic development over personal fulfilment.

I liked Girls about as much as the next TV critic, but there was an element of pose-throwing about it - a calculated lunge for the zeitgeist, or at the very least a spread in the Sunday culture sections - which was bound to aggravate as many viewers as it enthralled. (I mean, it aggravated me in places; that was the show it was.) Paula doesn't possess Dunham's comic chops, but what she does have is a whole lot of love to give - that sincere, unguarded affection that proves easier to access with age, when you realise how you've got where you are, and how crucial those around you were to you getting there. What shines through the film's domestic scenes, all but documentary, is a mother's love for her own son (an adorably inquisitive moppet, granted) and for her own mother, honourably stepping up to provide ad hoc childcare while Romina is off partying; these scenes are sporadically interrupted by a running slideshow, filling us in first on how a German family ventured this far west, then clearing some space so the supporting characters can present their own credentials to the camera. Dunham would likely have made an excruciatingly naff setpiece out of the oldtimers' house party Romina shows up at, whereas Paula herself allows us to register its naffer elements before staying with it long enough for us to spot individuals cutting loose from responsibility in a way they haven't been able to for a while. If there's any obvious crossover between heroine and filmmaker, it's that they're often thoughtful, sometimes prone to overthinking: I wasn't entirely sold on those inserts, which stop an already shuffling film dead and might have been better integrated into the characterisation proper. On the whole, though, this is a likable, heartfelt act of cinematic scrapbooking: we'll look back on it with the same fondness as its maker clearly does this period.

Again Once Again is now streaming via MUBI UK.

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