"Lluvia", de Paula Hernández (Variety)

A Buena Vista Intl. Argentina release of a Patagonik Films production. Produced by Juan Pablo Galli, Juan Vera, Alejandro Cacetta. Executive producer, Juan Vera. Directed, written by Paula Hernandez.

With: Valeria Bertuccelli, Ernesto Alterio.

A chance encounter during a torrential downpour allows a couple of strangers to reconnect with life around them in Paula Hernandez's accomplished and deeply satisfying two-hander, "Rain." More mature in theme and style than her debut, "Inheritance," this second feature starts off resembling (in a good way) Claire Denis' "Friday Night" and then moves into its own territory, using superb sound design and restrained lensing to slowly expose her protags' dampened turmoil. Though ticket sales at home last year were muted, the pic is deservedly garnering attention on the fest circuit.

A massive evening rainstorm creates bumper-to-bumper traffic in Buenos Aires. Alma (Valeria Bertuccelli, "XXY") leaves her car's sanctuary just long enough to take a pregnancy test, then goes back to the driver's seat, when she's suddenly joined by Roberto (Ernesto Alterio), looking for temporary shelter. Though both characters closely guard their recent past, the film gradually parcels out information: She's just split with her b.f., and he's returned to Argentina from Madrid to look after his estranged, comatose father.

In essence, that's the plot: two people adrift yet immobile, thrown together by happenstance on a stormy night. What makes "Rain" stand out is what Hernandez does with her script and how she works with her crew. Minimizing exposition, the helmer-scripter builds the background story via subtle clues that progressively cohere until just enough of a portrait is revealed. Adding exactly the right amount of humor also saves the film from being a study in miserablism, assisted too by the strength of personality conveyed by the two thespers.

Ace d.p. Guillermo Nieto ("Rolling Family," "Born and Bred") masterfully controls tight spaces, getting the most out of the opening sequence's limited shots while capturing the car's position within the gridlocked mass. Especially noteworthy is Martin Grignaschi's richly atmospheric sound work, exemplified inside the car when the calm of hearing only the buffered music of Alma's CD player jarringly shifts to a cacophony of sounds when she removes the headset.

Camera (color), Guillermo Nieto; editor, Rosario Suarez; music, Sebastian Escofet; production designer, Mercedes Alfonsin; costume designer, Roberta Pesci; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Grignaschi. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (Latin America), Sept. 27, 2009. (Also in Reykjavik, Montreal World, Jeonju, Istanbul film festivals.) Running time: 103 MIN.

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