‘El agua’, by Elena López Riera: magical realism on the banks of the Segura that fascinates in Cannes

In the Vega Baja area, in the south of the province of Alicante, water has a very special meaning. These lands are crossed by the Segura river and the orchards depend on it, which, to a large extent, sustain the region. Sometimes it is dry, but when a flood arrives, it overflows with monumental dragging power, drowning everything in its path. Legends have been passed down from generation to generation. Each family has its own. In that of Elena López Riera, who was born in Orihuela, it was said that the river sometimes fell in love with a young woman and wanted to take her with her, so that, until that did not happen, her fury was not appeased.

This is the base, almost mythological, that sustains ‘El agua’, the feature debut by Elena López Riera that is presented at the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival and that supposes a natural evolution of all the observational work that the director had carried out in her short films, in which, as it happens here, local becomes universal. “For me it was fundamental to make this film in my town, with our accents, because after all this story comes from my closest environment, from my family, from all those hot afternoons that I have spent with my grandmother, with my aunts and the neighbors talking about stories. It was something that I wanted to vindicate in a very conscious way & rdquor ;, says Elena López Riera from Cannes.

The protagonist of ‘El agua’ is called Ana (the magnetic newcomer Moon Pamies, with no prior acting experience) and spends the summer in Orihuela with her friends, chatting by the river and drinking at night while she experiences her first love and her first kisses among the lemon trees. She lives with her mother, Isabella (Barbara Lennie), who runs a roadside bar, and his grandmother (medina snow). Three generations of single women who have been passing their fears from one to another, one of them, the one that has to do with the atavistic nature of the river and who form a strange, almost ethereal matriarchy within that suffocating rural world plagued by gossip and gossip. secrets

Fiction and everyday life

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The director does not hide her admiration for writers like Juan Rulfo and his way of approaching magical realism, but he recognizes that the one who has influenced him the most is the new generation of Latin American authors who mix fantastic elements with other everyday ones in his novels and that address female fears in a very telluric and ancestral way. Fundamental names appear in the conversation, such as Almada Jungle (his novel ‘It’s not a river’ was very important for López Riera), the Chilean nona fernandez and of course, Mariana Enriquez. “In all of them there is a special interest in oral literature, in the transmission of storieswhich is something that forms the backbone of my film and that links it to all that Latino and Hispanic cultural heritage in which there are no differences between fiction and everyday life”, he continues.

Elena López Riera’s gaze is charged with a strange hypnotic power. It swings between the observation of reality and poetry and a whole series of formats are mixed that make ‘El agua’ a film as unique as it is risky, from archive fragments of local television news to women speaking to the camera around those myths that, in their mouths, become reality. Because for Elena López Riera, the word of these women, their heritage, is a political issue.

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