Tribeca 2024 Review: A Pair of Scientists Take a Course in Gender Studies in Celina Murga’s “The Freshly Cut Grass”

There’s a brief moment of hesitation in “The Freshly Cut Grass” when Pablo (Joaquin Furriel) prevents himself from leaning in as a student from his biology course goes in for a kiss. It isn’t that such a relationship would be frowned upon that yields the most tension in the scene, but after being privy to a similar moment with his female colleague Natalia (Marina de Tavira), what he does next has a point of comparison when Natalia is able to resist her own urges when she and one of her own students clearly share an attraction. The fact that both are professors at a school for the sciences provides an intriguing backdrop for Celina Murga’s narrative experiment in which the male and female characters approach similar situations and the inequities that arise in terms of consequences for their actions.

Both end up having affairs, but you’re more inclined to only believe one of them when they say, “This is the first time I’ve been with somebody else,” opening a unique space for a domestic drama as Pablo and Natalia live their lives in parallel. Their paths never cross, but beyond a professional pursuit, they have nearly identical families with Pablo sharing two sons with his wife Carla (Romina Peluffo) and Natalia raising two daughters with her husband Hernan (Alfonso Tort). Even if it weren’t instantly telling of where Murga’s sympathies lie when Natalia has to pick up her kids from school while Pablo heads right home, leaving Carla to deal with the boys, Pablo’s older son is reckless, unkind to his mother who is trying to learn a new language and his younger brother who he attacks at the dining room table unprovoked. Perhaps he’ll grow out of it, but as “Freshly Cut Grass” wears on, subtle traces of such an attitude can be seen from a mature Pablo, who rarely shows much emotion at all but is given to impulsive decisions.

Whereas Pablo’s hesitation towards infidelity lasts but a split-second, Natalia is much slower to come around to it when its potential to upend her life doesn’t only occur to her as a possibility before diving in, but a likelihood when innately she’s bound to be harder on herself than anyone else could be, especially when she knows she is made to fear bearing the brunt of any of the fallout. Murga and co-writers Lucia Osorio and Juan Villegas shrewdly stretch out the stakes, which involves the aftermath, but also the circumstances leading up to any choice the characters make as Natalia’s calculus includes a job opportunity and a more clearly unhappy marriage than Pablo, who dismisses applying for the same gig when he thinks it’s destined to go to a woman and his relationship with Carla seems to be just fine.

Though the conceit of vaguely repeating scenes to witness the differences can slow down the film’s narrative thrust, the results are subtle but often rewarding as Pablo and Natalia grow out of being defined by the gender roles they were born into into more dynamic portrayals based on how each has internalized what exactly they can get away with given the experiences that they’ve had. de Tavira, in particular, makes the most of a juicy part as Natalia, not having the luxury that Pablo does of following her passion wherever it may lead, and that may be expected from the actress who was nominated for an Oscar as the put-upon mother in “Roma,” but ultimately “The Freshly Cut Grass” arrives at a satisfying conclusion when it questions the nature of having expectations at all, allowing one to imagine what the world would look like if not burdened with prejudices.

“The Freshly Cut Grass” will screen again at Tribeca Festival on June 13th at 3 pm at the AMC 19th St. East 6 and June 14th at 3:15 pm at the Village East.

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