Robe of Gems
A missing woman, thought to have met her end in an unspeakably violent manner; her working class family, distraughtly searching for answers; a wealthy woman who sets out on a perilous mission to find those answers – it sounds as though Robe of Gems is going to be a hardboiled, uncompromising thriller. It very much isn’t. While this may lead to disappointment amongst audiences who chose to watch the film based upon its general synopsis, there’s still much to contemplate in writer-director Natalia López Gallardo’s debut feature. If anything, there’s too much contemplation and not enough definition.
Isabel (Nailea Norvind) and her family have moved into her mother’s (sprawling and architecturally severe) estate in rural Mexico. Maria (Antonia Olivares), the family’s former housekeeper re-enters their lives, while having to contend with her anguish about her missing sister – a probable victim of the country’s gang violence. Despite being cautioned against it by Maria, Isabel decides to take an active role in the investigation.
The fact that the film’s opening shot takes an eternity to fade in should be a signal of what’s to come. There’s a gentle, drifting quality to the way the narrative gets underway, and one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply going to take a little while before any form or function becomes clear. It eventually becomes apparent that this is simply the chosen style and execution. The tranquil pace is seemingly intended to create a juxtaposition with the substantial themes Robe of Gems explores, but the tone remains consistently (and a little oddly) flat throughout. Scenes depicting trivial matters seem about as consequential as those that should be impactful in their relation to the story.
There’s no urgency or insistence to the proceedings, with its characters too morose to really register, which makes it difficult to become invested in their motivations. Given the circumstances, it’s not as though anyone should be upbeat, but the listless nature of the end result makes for a viewing experience that doesn’t quite satisfy. There’s a worthwhile story to be told in Robe of Gems, but it takes more digging than an audience may be willing (or even able) to do.
Robe of Gems does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
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Watch a clip from Robe of Gems here: