Natalia Garayalde’s ‘Splinters’ is a Therapeutic Recollection of Time (Review)

What if you could have a visual benchmark of the moment your life would change forever? Natalia Garayalde’s Splinters is a mosaic of time and splendor that’s cinéma vérité: a capsule of memories that extends from the interpersonal to the farthest geopolitical spectrum of Argentinan history and culture. From her own archives, Natalia Garayalde documents the aftermath of the 1995 Río Tercero munitions factory explosion – later revealed to be an intentional attack from the state. 

Splinters is a brutal recollection of a point in Argentinian history when politicians sacrificed the lives of seven people and injured 300 more for the sake of a cover-up. This was neither the first nor the last time political factions used their positions of power to corrupt and hide their crimes. The use only becomes singular when, through the lens of a 12-year-old Natalia Garayalde, we are exposed to the real consequences of their actions. Splinter is not abstract headlines or paragraphs recounting the events. It’s visual proof. It’s the feeling of being immersed in that horrific moment. Where every loud bomb is heard, and every cry of sorrow is felt — people running through the streets, disoriented as explosions ricochet in the air. 

Smoke coming out of the Río Tercero munitions factory. (COURTESY: Natalia Garayalde)

Garayalde’s memories become heightened in their terse reflection. Splinters captures the unfiltered voices of those who suffered the consequences of decisions made by a select few. One group’s crimes became an entire city’s reckoning. Splinters showcases a fascinating dichotomy between time and space as Garayalde pieces together scenes from her past. There are moments when the camera’s point of view is omnipresent, where you’re not sure if it’s 12-year-old Garayalde or someone else from her family holding the camcorder. In those moments – inside her father’s car, for example, after the blast and looking from the perspective of one of the passengers – we are dared to ask: amid so much turmoil and destruction, as Garayalde’s family stops to pick up a stranger and her child wandering along the street, does it matter who is holding the camera?

Its purposeful restructuring of memories makes Garayalde’s Splinters a compelling historical marker for her country. Destruction and state sanctions become all the more personal in these clips. Hindsight becomes a powerful tool that gives new meaning to scenes of shattered windows and chaos in the streets. Garayalde’s use of time is more effective than any narration at explaining what takes place on the screen. Post-explosion, the film remains in the streets for five minutes as her father navigates the shattered surroundings of Río Tercero. Time collapses. It renders the moment almost real to our contemporary viewing. Quality of image doesn’t matter because, for one instant, we are the ones inside that car witnessing what seemed to be the end of the world. 

Splinters is an unintentional homage to cinéma vérité and the power of one camcorder. It pieces together a moment in history that seems as unbelievable as a 12-year-old girl capturing it with her father’s camera. Even more fascinating is the same 12-year-old girl editing her broken memories into a look back in time. Garayalde creates suspense with her narration, letting us know which clip marks the last time she could sleep alone, then showing us when she pranced around in her still-standing home with her family. The conflation of happy memories with traumatic ones is what makes Splinters live on beyond this family’s tragic past. 

Rating: 9/10

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