There’s a real thrill in watching a film bend style and form, both captivating and surprising in using a mix of techniques. Even if the narrative ground it covers may seem featureless and generic at first glance, the film offsets expectations by infusing familiar templates with a dash of innovation in its aesthetic choices. What could have been easily predictable and dull turns exciting and invigoratingly fresh. This is what Argentinian filmmaker Hernan Rosselli accomplishes in his sophomore narrative feature, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed.”

Rosselli is a director who is constantly geared to experimentation and a deep sense of renewal in the telling. He doesn’t tend to fall back on suitable tropes in fulfilling his vision, instead actively hunting out new, often disorienting decisions with which a relatively conventional tale can gain elements of individuality and still succeed at perturbing the viewer. There’s ease and skill with which he shifts and registers tones while striking that balance between the archetypal and the fresh. It may not be a film that’s entirely shocking in its novelty, yet it manages to pack in a few tricks up its sleeve. In this film, Rosselli swoops down on a Buenos Aires family that is struggling to pick up its broken shards in the wake of a tragedy. This isn’t a regular family but one that has been carrying on a bustling gambling business.

When Hugo, the business head, passes away, his wife, Alejandra, finds herself at the helm of affairs. Their daughter, Maribel, is the person whose perspective drives the film. What’s instantly fascinating is the mix of documentary and fictional staging. The boundaries blur to such a confounding degree that it’s almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. Assumptions and interpretations are pretty much left to the viewer. Characters are essayed by their real-life counterparts.

Therefore, we are thrown on diffuse terrain in this film. As mother and daughter navigate a series of tense, unpredictable situations, the film also cuts to the past, weaving archival home videos. The relationship between Hugo and Alejandra comes to the fore, moving from courtship to marriage and eventually becoming parents. The film particularly tracks the sweeping journey of Alejandra, as someone who barely knew of her husband’s underground betting business to ultimately take full control.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed (2024) ‘Cannes’ Movie Review
A still from Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed (2024)

The film springs from Maribel aka Mari’s quest to uncover the truth behind her father’s demise. Events surrounding it are shrouded in secrecy and doubt. Everyone denies having any knowledge of what actually transpired. She wonders if her father has been murdered. As she embarks on her own personal search, she is advised not to persistently caution against the dangers of digging up the past. Some things need to stay buried for the best.

But Mari is restless and anguished, refusing to settle unless her inklings are acknowledged or rebutted with certain evidence. Then there are concerns over impending police raids, many such as having struck down the fortunes of rival bookie families. How the Felpeto clan soldiers preserve, sustain, and fortify themselves against possible threats works as the front to the more intimate excavations conducted with tentativeness but steady curiosity by Mari. That much may have been kept hidden from her is a fast-emerging realization that nags at Mari further.

Hernan Rosselli’s film is a gleamingly shrewd piece of docu-fiction, choosing to operate on slippery ground. Truth and artifice collide headily and provocatively. Few films pull off such a delicate balance without coming off as exhaustively and obtrusively orchestrated. The film flirts with a string of mafia/gang war-fuelled episodes, but Rosselli opts to relegate it to a background, seething presence. The sense of high stakes in the situations heightens in a couple of scenes, including a particularly fraught one where Alejandra mounts an interrogation. The interaction with the man who has breached rules is edged with a latent, icy threat, cushioned by the niceties of asking after his family. Alejandra makes her terms unequivocally clear while also telling him his wife is very beloved to her.

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed” fuses observational archival footage, grainy surveillance feed, and a host of visual tendencies that seem to echo the family’s dislodging security. Certainties are teetering on the perch. As Maribel grapples with the weight of shady family history, secrets tumbling out into the light, the film circles the twinning, clashing forces of denial and discovery.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed premiered at Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival 2024.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed (2024) Movie Link: IMDb

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