Festival gem: The Delay

Rodrigo Plá’s heartbreaking drama about a struggling mother trying to offload her senile father is a highlight from day six of the Festival.

Samuel Wigley
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Selected as Uruguay’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards, Rodrigo Plá’s third feature, The Delay, is a stark but moving portrait of familial love at breaking point.

What’s it about?

María (Roxana Blanco) is a single-mother living in cramped quarters with her three young children and her ageing father Agustin (Carlos Vallarino). Barely able to make ends meet from her work as a seamstress, María finds it an increasing struggle to cope with Agustin, who is forgetful and unable to look after himself, and lives in the past. When her sister and a care home each refuse to take on the responsibility for him, María is driven to desperate action.

Who made it?

Born in Montevideo in 1968, Rodrigo Plá’s two previous features, La zona (2007) and The Desert Within (2008), and his segment for the 2010 portmanteau film Revolución, were filmed in Mexico. Released in UK cinemas in 2008, La zona is a compelling satirical thriller set in a gated community in Mexico City that contrasts the worlds of dirt-poverty and elite luxury that co-exist in the capital. The Delay marks Plá’s first feature in his native Uruguay. 

What’s special about it?

Though María’s downtrodden predicament might have made for depressing viewing, the humanity of the adult performances – Carlos Vallarino is especially convincing as the bewildered Agustin – ensure The Delay becomes very moving as the story unfurls. Shot in wintry browns and greys, the cinematography by María Secco is notable for its precise framing and striking compositions; the dour setting becomes so richly atmospheric you can almost see your breath in the air. Also noteworthy is the sound design, which in one important central sequence becomes a clanging symphony of urban noise.

What critics are saying

Leslie Felperin, Variety:

Carlos Vallarino and Roxana Blanco offer up moving yet underplayed perfs as a father and daughter who find themselves in a desperate situation wrought with finely nuanced emotional brushstrokes. […] Scribe Laura Santullo (Plá’s wife and co-writer of his previous pics La zona and The Desert Within) takes pains to keep Maria sympathetic despite her actions; lending a strong assist in this regard is Blanco (Alma Mater), who looks properly haggard and exhausted throughout, despite her regal posture. Vallarino is likewise heartbreaking as a proud man struggling to hold onto his dignity.

Dan Fainaru, Screen:

This bleak, uncompromising piece of filmmaking finds Rodrigo Plá in a very different mood from his earlier films La zona and El Desierto Adentro. […] If this sounds like Latin melodrama, forget about it. Neither the script nor the direction are interested in wallowing in unnecessary sentimentalism. Grimly sticking to the drab facts of Agustin and Maria’s life, it never tries to paint them either better or worse than they really are. They simply ring true.

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