Amalia Ulman Brings Us ‘The Grifters,’ with Compassion and Laughter, in ‘El Planeta’

Amalia Ulman Brings Us ‘The Grifters,’ with Compassion and Laughter, in ‘El Planeta’
El Planeta” is a graceful willow of a movie. The distributor is tiny; it was made on a whisper of a budget, with a crew of five, in black-and-white. It’s also the kind of movie that makes you want to talk fast, so people can learn how great it is before their attention spans are flattened by the tsunami of awards-season marketing.

The debut feature of Argentine-born Spanish artist-turned-filmmaker Amalia Ulman, Sundance 2021 premiere “El Planeta” is all her: She’s the director, writer, producer, and star, one of only three named characters in the film. Within the sleepy coastal city of Gijón, inside the autonomous region of Spain known as Asturias, they portray mother-daughter grifters María and Leonor, who execute disastrous romantic and financial schemes in the guise of rich people. “Where do you want me to work, McDonald’s?” Amalia moans as the hopelessly unambitious Leo. In the film’s opening scene,
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