Whether it’s a convoluted political thriller, a completely ridiculous erotic melodrama, a gripping documentary, or a nauseatingly banal romantic comedy, one of the most powerful aspects of visual storytelling is its ability to plunge the viewer head-first into a setting that may be completely alien to them and fully immersing them in the surroundings, plot, and characters. The very best examples of this will effectively whisk the audience away for the full duration of its runtime, leaving them with a bit of a disconcerting feeling of displacement when the whole affair is over. That strange, fuzzy, “where even am I” post-movie buzz as you’re walking out of that darkened theater after having navigated someone else’s life for the last two hours.
Sebastián Schjaer’s La Omisión is a film that excels at this. For its entire duration, viewers are transported to the winter landscapes of Ushuaia, known as the southernmost city in the world. It’s a cold, unforgiving environment, with characters in constant need of shielding themselves from the harsh weather conditions. But its snowy woods and frost-covered city streets serve as the venue for the more important type of immersion, which is the specific emotional space that the director and cast have created and chosen to explore via the movie’s plot, themes, and characters.
La Omisión introduces us to Paula, a 23 year-old woman from Buenos Aires who has recently moved to this city at the fin del mundo. When we first meet her, we understand instinctively that she’s running from something, even if it’s not immediately clear exactly what that is. We are slowly shown more and more of her life: we see her go through a series of unfulfilling jobs, we see her try to save money, we see her grappling with loose threads from her old life.
The movie does a fantastic job at gradually – through subtle strokes – painting the full picture of Paula’s current state, and helping us understand her motivations. These serve as the narrative through line to the film, and though it may feel a bit bewildering at first (early on, I found myself wondering why I was supposed to even care about this character), it actually ends up resonating very loudly.
Which is not to say that La Omisión is some grand, weepy melodrama that makes some kind of portentous statement about the human condition. In fact, it’s a fairly quiet film, sparse with its dialogue and exposition, very methodical in its method of storytelling, bringing us inch-by-inch closer to an understanding of what drives Paula. It’s a small story, and its execution reflects that perfectly; often, shots of characters and surroundings seem to linger just a second or two beyond what feels naturally comfortable.
This feels very much like a conscious choice by the filmmakers; discomfort seems to be a running theme throughout the movie, with characters never quite settling in to the rhythms of mundanity, trudging through thick snow, interacting with the world through layers upon layers of cumbersome winter clothing. To this end, a great majority of the shots in this film are very tight, up close, right up in the character’s faces.
For much of the opening sequence, the camera is immediately behind Paula; we see very little of her surroundings as she makes her way through a crowded bus and, breathing heavily, tears off her mittens to have a drink of water. This goes hand-in-hand with the film’s theme of transience and displacement. Paula has a very specific goal in mind, and that goal drives her every action throughout the film; she will persevere through the awkwardness and discomfort to achieve it.
As clever as the directing is in conveying the film’s themes and emotions, a lot of the work rests on the shoulders of lead actress Sofia Brito. Through her complex, layered and empathetic performance, we come to understand the character’s internal life, even if she presents a stoic demeanor for much of the film’s duration. Communicating so much emotion through such few lines of dialogue is incredibly challenging, and she does a commendable job with it.
A small-scale, quiet film that manages to resonate powerfully, La Omisión is a great example of communicating big, complex emotions through small gestures, character moments, and aesthetic choices. It is quiet, yes, but it is also harrowing, moving, and tender.
La Omisión is screening every Saturday in August at the MALBA – Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415. Tickets can be purchased online.