Threatened that she has to pay off the money she owes or face the consequences, Julia, a singer, leaves the restaurant where she’s performed and drives to her former home in a leafy working class tenement block in Posadas, northern Argentina, on the sweeping Paraná river.

There she plans to reclaim the stash of money she’s made from a scam she pulled off years before in her district as well as sign a document to allow her near-17-year old daughter Clara to move from Argentina to Paraguay to live with her father.

Yet, during Julia’s years of absence, Clara has grown up, has a passion, music, friends and a stable relationship with a girlfriend and doesn’t want to move at all. But Clara will need Julia’s hidden cash if she wants to stay in Posadas….

Argentina’s Mara Pescio, a screenwriter whose credits include work on Argentine Oscar submission “Sleepwalkers,” MGM’s “The End of Love” and “Victoria Small,” from ViacomCBS Intl. Studios and The Mediapro Studio, makes her directorial debut with “Ese Fin de Semana.” The film keys in on a singular setting, a humble district in the multi-ethnic city of Posadas, and a contemporary context multiplied throughout Latin American films: the decline of an old economic order whose crisis ravages relationships, including the most fundamental of social units: the family.

Pescio compares “Ese Fin de Semana” to a Western. In classic Western narrative – think John Ford’s “The Searchers” – civilization is being built. In “Ese Fin de Semana,” civilization is unravelling, once more requiring an act of sacrifice from its hero, here Julia, to ensure that others have a future.

“Ese Fin de Semana” is lead produced by two companies that have backed a large number of festival hits: Paula Zyngierman’s Maravillacine (“Mapa de Sueños Latinoamericanos,” “Marilyn”) and Murillo Cine, headed by Georgina Baisch and Cecilia Salim (“Land of Ashes,” “The Snatch Thief”).

Variety talked to Pescio just before “Ese Fin de Semana” played as a Work in Progress at his week’s virtual Sanfic Industria.

You describe “Ese Fin de Semana” as the story of a re-encounter, which marks the exact time that two people stop seeing each other. It also seems the portrait of a country where economic pressures force family members to live apart. But it’s certainly not an example of “poverty porn”? Could you comment? 

Pescio: I wanted to drill down on the bonds between characters who are conditioned by economic context. Though I didn’t want in any way at all to exploit poverty as one of the film’s calling cards. Every character in “Ese Fin de Semana” suffers economic deprivations, which drove their actions. I come from a working class family where money was an undercurrent in any conversation; it changed bonds and shaped daily life. So people spend the film counting money talking about money, seeing how a certain sum could change their lives. It’s a theme that’s close to me, part of my past.

The setting is highly unusual: Posadas, just across the Rio Parana from Paraguay and not far from Brazil. Why chose such a multi-ethnic setting?

Pescio: This multi-cultural mix creates a singular context that you don’t find elsewhere.  The porous nature of frontiers makes relations permeable as well. The multiple languages of Posadas means the way people understand one another has to expand. It creates relations that are less structured. Also, this frontier where people mix Guaraní, Spanish and Portuguese when talking is a universe that in the film borders the Western. A genre that courses through the whole film and serves above all to delineate the figure of Julia: A mother who, in an act of love, decides to step aside and allow her daughter to go ahead without her.

You’ve directed documentaries and the film often seems documentary in style. Why this approach?

Pescio: I still remember the first day I got to the barrio, Villa Cabello, in Posadas, accompanied by Santiago Carabante, our producer in Misiones. I wanted to film everything happening around me and it was difficult to focus on the screenplay that we’d written! I wanted to include the stories which were opening up in parallel, talking about the characters I was discovering. Some of this creates the film as it now stands. A lot of the sequences are entirely documentary, much of the cast are people from the area. The work with a non-professional cast gave the tone, rhythm and essence to the rest of the narrative. I can’t imagine the film set anywhere but Villa Cabello.

Could you talk about the lead performances, both from women, which are both strong?

Pescio: The story takes place in an almost totally female world. Women determined to change their destiny. From the get-go, I wanted actors with this particular intensity but who also had some connection with their characters. Once again this brought a documentary edge to the fiction. Irina, Paz, Laura, Gabriela, Lola, as the rest of the cast, found this axis in the drama that mixed intensity and detail.

The film is lead-produced by two women-led Argentine production houses, both with distinguished festival records: Maravillacine and Murillo Cine. Do you get a sense of women increasingly taking the reins of Argentine cinema?

Pescio: Between us – the producers Georgina Baisch, Sazy Salim, Paula Zyngierman and, from Brazil, Tathiani Sacilotto at Persona Non Grata, as well as most of the cast and crew – we created a women’s network, supporting and embodying the initiative. Such acts of resistance, despite the challenges, mean that the new cinema made by women is exploding, bringing another vision and dimension to stories, about characters which are portrayed from a unique perspective. This collective effort is powering up the new cinema, without conditioning what’s being produced.

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