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Film Review: “Again Once Again” Explores an Existential Crisis

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 29th, 2020

Film poster: “Again Once Again”

Again Once Again (“De nuevo otra vez”) (Romina Paula, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.

From Argentinian actress/writer/director Romina Paula (making her debut behind the camera) comes Again Once Again, a hybrid docu-fictional treatment of her own life, with herself starring as herself, alongside her own mother, son and friends, all performing in dramatized recreations from what we assume is her actual history. Though sometimes seeming as if it is made for an audience of one (i.e., Paula), the movie nevertheless offers some interesting scenes of expositional introspection intercut with a drama of approaching midlife crisis. As the title indicates, there’s nothing particularly novel in the metaphysics of self-doubt, but the specificity of the surrounding details here elevate the material beyond the mundane, coupled with lovely cinematography and the strong presence of Paula in the central role. It may not wow, but it does frequently intrigue.

When first we meet our protagonist, it is through her voiceover narrating a family slide show, musing whether melancholy is not solely reserved for the young, who have yet to find their place in the world. Then we see her in person, son in tow, visiting her mother in Buenos Aires. Her mother’s family, though it has lived in Argentina since just after World War I, hails from Germany, and has continued to speak German since then. Based on her mother’s own linguistic preference, German is still her first choice, though that pattern seems to have been broken with Paula, who converses and narrates in Spanish (though teaching German to a young man about to travel to that country). This fact may contribute to Paula’s sense of confusion even as it grounds her in who she is.

Director/Star Romina Paula with son Ramón in AGAIN ONCE AGAIN ©Varsovia

Paula is at a turning point in her relationship with her boyfriend (father to her son), hence the visit to mom. In meditative sequence after meditative sequence, she gently explores the how and why of her existential quandary, allowing other characters time to do the same. Not all of it comes together quite as effectively as she might want, but there is still beauty in her and everyone else’s angst. There’s even a brief frisson of sexual exploration to spice things up. Overall, this is a well-assembled, intimate work of private introspection that plays and feels like a narrative, yet holds the truth of its documentary origins in every frame. This combination is both its strength and its weakness, for when we don’t engage with Paula or her dilemma, the movie drags; when we do, it can be almost profound.

[Starting on July 29, Again Once Again streams on MUBI USA for 30 days.]

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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