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‘The Freshly Cut Grass’ Review: Scorsese-Backed Argentinian Drama

‘The Freshly Cut Grass’ Review: Scorsese-Backed Argentinian Drama

Argentinian director Celina Murga’s new feature The Freshly Cut Grass (El aroma del pasto recién cortado) probably should have been called The Grass Is Greener, so much is it about adults desperately searching for happiness outside their married lives, only to realize they may have been better off staying home in bed and throwing on Netflix.

Following a pair of 40-something professors who teach at the same university, and who both start affairs with younger students that wind up blowing up in their faces, the film’s rather original structure tells two parallel stories that mirror each other without ever once intersecting. That novelty, as well as strong performances from a cast of six, help boost a movie that says nothing entirely new about adultery, marriage, or midlife crises, resulting in a relatively pedestrian if keenly observed ensemble drama.

The Freshly Cut Grass

The Bottom Line

It takes more than two to tango.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Cast: Joaquín Furriel, Marina de Tavira, Alfonso Tort, Romina Peluffo, Emanuel Parga, Verónica Gerez
Director: Celina Murga
Screenwriters: Celina Murga, Juan Villegas, Lucía Osorio

1 hour 54 minutes

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, who held the same credit on Murga’s previous features The Third Side of the River and A Week Alone, the film follows a similar modus operandi by focusing on the turmoils of Argentina’s professional class. But Grass is also chattier and more openly romantic than the director’s other work, chronicling the sexual longings and deceptions of Generation Xers looking for love in all the wrong places.

The set-up is somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, although the location is Buenos Aires and the characters are all educated members of the country’s bourgeoisie: Natalia (Marina de Tavira) and Pablo (Joaquín Furriel) teach agronomics in the same college, are each married with two children and are both flirting heavily with one of their students.

In Natalia’s case, that student is the helpful, hunky Gonzalo (Emanuel Parga), while in Pablo’s case it’s the free-spirited, punkish Luciana (Verónica Gerez). Things aren’t going great at home for either professor, whose significant others — Hernán (Alfonso Tort) and Carla (Romina Peluffo), respectively — are unemployed and unhappy, leaving the two teachers to gradually wander into the arms of their very apt pupils.

Nothing feels altogether surprising in Muraga’s scenario (co-written with Juan Villegas and Lucía Osorio), except for the fact that Natalia and Pablo are basically living through the same exact story without either of them knowing it. From scene to scene, we cut between the two as they simultaneously cheat on their spouses, get better acquainted with their young lovers and try to conceal things on the home front. They both eventually realize that such things are much easier said than done, especially when photos of them in revealing poses with their students are leaked onto social media.

Despite the narrative redundancy, there are some subtle differences between the plotlines: Natalia experiences a kind of sexual awakening with Gonzalo, while Pablo seems to be rediscovering his youth alongside Luciana. Natalia’s husband, Hernán, reacts to the news of his wife’s cheating by temporarily walking out on her, while Carla decides to remain at home and suffer in secret when she finds out about Pablo’s affair. Gonzalo seems to be genuinely smitten with the older Natalia, while Luciana’s tryst with Pablo is just another facet of her carefree life, even if she clearly has real feelings for him.

The Freshly Cut Grass pinpoints all these minor differences without stressing them too much, resulting in a drama that feels authentic but also far too subdued. The film is carried less by its somewhat familiar plot — or rather, its two matching plots — than by solid turns from the ensemble cast. De Tavira, who memorably played the mother in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, is a standout as a middle-aged woman who comes to realize the limits of her own happiness, as well as the hard sacrifices required to obtain it.

Murga ultimately presents adultery as a necessary step for married couples looking to rekindle their romances and re-evaluate their commitments — an idea that seems slightly archaic at a time when open relationships and polyamory are all the rage, at least in lots of contemporary movies and TV series. The director’s vision of Argentina’s downtrodden modern love lives is nonetheless not without hope, showing how it may take a trial by fire, and a little bedroom action on the side, to keep things afloat.

Full credits

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Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (International Narrative Competition)
Production companies: Tresmilmundos Cine, Mostra Cine, Infinity Hill, Dopamine, Nadador Cine, Weydemann Bros.
Cast: Joaquín Furriel, Marina de Tavira, Alfonso Tort, Romina Peluffo, Emanuel Parga, Verónica Gerez
Director: Celina Murga
Screenwriters: Celina Murga, Juan Villegas, Lucía Osorio
Producers: Juan Villegas, Celina Murga, Valeria Bistagnino, Tomás Eloy Muñoz, Axel Kuschevatzky, Cindy Teperman
Executive producers: Martin Scorsese, Valeria Bistagnino, Tomás Eloy Muñoz, Juan Villegas, Phin Glynn, Delfina Montecchia, Juan José López, Pedro Barcia, Jakob Weydemann, Jonas Weydemann, Paulette Bresson, Benjamín Salinas Sada, Fidela Navarro, María García Castrillón
Cinematographer: Lucio Bonelli
Production designer: Maria Eugenia Montero
Costume designer: Mariana Dosil
Editor: Manuel Ferrari
Composers: Luciano Supervielle, Gabriel Chwojnik
Casting director: María Laura Berch
Sales: TDO Media
In Spanish

1 hour 54 minutes

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