REVIEW: Lucía Garibaldi’s polished and hypnotic “The Sharks”

“The Sharks” (“Los Tiburones” in the original Spanish title) is something special. Uruguayan writer/director Lucía Garibaldi’s feature-length debut is a coming of age tale that gets to the heart of its subject without judgment or forced and phony life lessons. This is a careful and organic look at a teenager on the cusp of becoming a woman.

Almost overwhelmed by puberty, fifteen-year old Rosina is finding her way through her life. After she injures her sister’s eye after hitting her too hard, she runs away to the ocean. With her father chasing after her, Rosina gets in the water. She is remorseful and her father knows it. He just wants her to come home and Rosina doesn’t know how to handle her feelings of remorse for what she did.

Leaving the water, Rosina sees the dorsal fin of a shark and later the carcass of a sea lion is found on the beach, starting a panic among the townspeople. But make no mistake, this is no horror film. It’s all a metaphor for the dangers of diving into life without thinking things through and the ever-present “monster” of obsession.

While helping her dad with his lawn business Rosina meets Joselo, an older man who awakens her sexual desire. After an awkward first sexual encounter and Joselo’s lack of sharing that same spark, Rosina responds through confusion and lack of being able to grasp the fact that he is pulling away.

Acting out of angry impulse and the crushing disbelief that her attraction to Joselo isn’t returned, Rosina steals his pregnant dog and hides it, forcing the two of them to search together. It is unclear to Rosina exactly what type of outcome she expects but she is young and impulsively dives into the danger.

Puberty was a tough time for all of us. Rosina’s actions are not always wise, but she doesn’t mean harm, nor does she do anything out of malice. She is a teenager reacting to her surroundings at a strange time in her life. We have all been there. When navigating the world, these things happen. Life lessons. We learn and grow.

Romina Bentancur plays Rosina with a soft-spoken distance yet allows us to see her true feelings. Rosina is an icy-and-hard-to-like main character, but the film leaves it to us as to whether we choose to like her or not. This is a performance that transcends mere acting. It is as if Rosina is real and being followed around by a documentary crew.

In movement, expression, and tone, Bentancur is completely natural. The actress never draws attention to herself, allowing her work to be smart and attainable. Bentancur’s performance could be the announcement of a big talent and one I would compare to Jean-Pierre Leaud’s as “Antoine” in Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” for the naturalistic and honest portrayal of youth.

Lucía Garibaldi and her cinematographer German Nocella craft their film with wide-open spaces (beaches, open yards, empty streets) that give a visual structure to Rosina’s feelings of isolation. It is an unobtrusive design that works well with Garibaldi’s naturalistic style and patient filmmaking.

Garibaldi’s film won Best Feature at the 2019 Milano Film Festival. While the film isn’t perfect (there are a few familial issues that are addressed then forgotten), “The Sharks” is a cryptic but always engrossing film that follows a tight character structure to guide us through Rosina’s journey to womanhood.

FIND OUT MORE: Lucía Garibaldi on Vimeo

Filmmaker Lucía Garibaldi