Natural Sciences is a well-presented entree of a film, but with a short running time and even sparser narrative, it risks leaving viewers with an appetite unfulfilled.
A debut feature for Argentinian director Matias Lucchesi, the film follows runaway pre-teen Lila (Paula Hertzog) and her unconditionally – at times bafflingly – supportive science teacher Jimena (Paola Barrientos) on a journey to find her absent father.
Natural Sciences is stark and unsentimental. The film opens with jagged rocks and deserted planes. The score is almost non-existent. Then we are introduced to Lila, a dishevelled twelve-year-old student at a rural Argentinian boarding school who wants to find her father.
As we follow Lila through her week, we realise something is wrong. We watch as the girl becomes more and more withdrawn, until she attempts to steal her science teacher’s car and run away. However it is at this point that the plot begins to waver.
Though reluctant at first, science teacher Jimena risks her career to drive the aloof and, at times, unlikeable Lila over 200 kilometres around rural Argentina. Never falling completely into cookie-cutter territory, yet dangerously teetering, we set out on a teacher-student road-trip to find an absent father.
With a few setbacks along the way, and the help of sickly long-haired welder Puma (Alvin Astorga), the film reaches an unexpected resolution. And then it’s over, however plot-wise the film’s ending is where it shines. There are no dramatic breakdowns or melancholy musical numbers and there’s no concrete resolution. It just is what it is.
Throughout the drama, there is almost no verbal interaction between characters. With brutal, otherworldly scenery and minimal music, the first twenty minutes of the film builds tension beautifully and evokes an almost tangible sense of isolation and loneliness.
Cinematically, Natural Sciences remains stunning from beginning to end; a credit to cinematographer Sebastian Ferrero. Similarly, Hertzog and Barrientos play their characters seamlessly.
Never sugar-coated or pretentious, Natural Sciences is more of a reflection of real life than anything else. Viewers looking for emotional closure and a traditional plot may find such a resolution lacklustre, but despite their tumultuous journey, Lila and Jimena manage to end their journey satisfied. Despite a rocky midsection and questionable narrative early-on, I did too.
Reviewed by Samuel Smith
Rating out of 10: 7