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Final Girls Film Festival: ‘Rock, Paper and Scissors’ is a Dull Triangle of Death

Rock, Paper and Scissors (Piedra, papel y tijera)

At first glance, Jesus (Pablo Sigal) and Maria José (Agustina Cervino), brother and sister, seem like a couple. A very odd couple. Maria José lies spaced out on the couch, watching The Wizard of Oz, while Jesus films his pet guinea pig on an old camcorder. The front door rings incessantly, yet neither brother or sister want to open the door. Finally, Jesus succumbs, and challenges Maria José to a game of rock, paper, scissors. Whoever loses has to open the door. 

This quick struggle for dominance sets the tone for the rest of Rock, Paper and Scissors (Piedra, papel y tijera), a slow and oddball take from Argentina on the familial thriller where you never know quite where each player stands. After all, rock, paper, scissors only really works with two people involved. Throw a third person in, and its a perpetual triangle of death. 

This encroacher comes in the form of their step-sister, Magdalena (Valeria Giorcelli). With her very name referencing Mary Magdelene, she is a foreign intrusion into the calm bliss of Jesus and Maria. Darker-skinned and returning briefly from Spain, she comes strictly on business, offering to split up the house after the recent death of their father. 

Her appearance is a surprise, though Magdalena points out that she phoned ahead multiple times. Unlike Dorothy, who very much wanted to return home, neither Jesus or Maria José are willing to acknowledge basic reality; they beg Magdalena to stay, yet she insists on a hotel, only choosing to sleep in the family house one night. Yet, on her way out she has a painful slip, crashing down the stairs, leaving her bed-bound and confined within the walls of the house, which the film itself never escapes.

Piedra, papel y tijera

Perhaps due to political reasons beyond my concern, or simply as a means to save money, Argentina is obsessed with films set within the confines of one house. La Cama, one of the slowest, most painful films I’ve ever witnessed, charted twenty-four hours in the life of one couple breaking up and packing all their stuff, while Adiós entusiasmo (the title says it all) was a family tale about a mother who refused to leave a single room in her house, annoying her children with her voice alone. And while ostensibly a single location should force characters to really come into conflict and learn from each other, Rock, Paper and Scissors, like the other two films, is in no rush to go anywhere meaningful. 

While heavy on quirky detail — a film-within-a-film featuring Tito the guinea pig, a re-enactment of The Wizard of Oz, and pitch-black jokes about their father’s ashes — Rock avoids any true psychological depth. Perhaps this wouldn’t matter if the editing was brisker or the screenplay sharper. After all, deadly parlour games like this should be entertainments: think the razor-sharp storytelling of Parasite or Knives Out, films set in mostly one location that found novel ways to manipulate space. Sadly, Rock, Paper and Scissors, despite being full of twists and turns, is a rather flat experience, with any true catharsis left unfelt. By the end, the viewer doesn’t care who wins, just as long as the game finally ends. 

Final Girls Berlin Film Festival runs from February 6 — Feb 3. See programme for more details.

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