Sitting on over 60 acres of land in the Argentine Pampas resides a massive mansion that resembles a castle. The current owner Justina, who lives there with her daughter Alexia, an aspiring Formula 1 driver, inherited the home not from family members, but her former employer. While the idea of the wealthy head of a family leaving their lavish estate to their housekeeper, rather than their loved ones, sounds straight out of a Knives Out mystery, Martín Benchmol’s charming documentary The Castle explores the fallout of such a decision.
A dedicated housekeeper, who had been working for the former matriarch in some capacity since she was five years-old, Justina was bestowed the mansion on the condition that she never sells it. While the stipulation essentially handcuffs hers to the home, one gets the sense that she would not free herself of the burden even if given the key. Dutifully dusting the framed photo of her former boss, whose image looms over the house and the film like an all-seeing spirit, Justina tends to the mansion and the livestock with the same attentive care as when she served it as an employee.
This inability to escape the ringing bell of servitude is especially noticeable when the former matriarch’s family members routinely arrive to spend several days at the home. Treating it like an Airbnb that they never need to pay for, the large family have potluck dinners, sleep, and play games during their stay. As the dirty dishes pile up, one is astutely aware that it will be Justina who will be responsible for cleaning them up. Stepping into a time machine, the presence of the former owner’s family instantly transports Justina back into her roll of docile servant.
As if the rope in a tug of war between the cemented roles of the past and a rapidly changing future, Justina finds herself emotionally pulled in different directions over the course of Benchmol’s film. A large source of stress for her is the fact that the tax bills for the house and the cost of the mounting repairs are adding up. With no clear way to cover the rising costs without selling the house, she is forced to consider methods, such as selling her cattle, to make cash.
Adding weight to her already bowing shelf of problems is the fact that Alexia plans to move to Buenos Aires to work in a friend’s garage. Believing she can make money that she can put towards her F1 dreams, and despite knowing many of the financial and historical ins and outs of the mansion, she sees no reason to remain at home any longer. The growing distance in the massive home is accentuated by the way Benchmol’s camera frequently observes Alexia alone in her room playing her driving simulator or practicing off-road driving in her car on the estate’s grounds.
In observing how Justina and Alexia navigate each other and the former matriarch’s family, one feels the sense of isolation that threatens to consume both of them. However, rather than be consumed by the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over their heads, The Castle offers a refreshing ray of hope through its whimsical feel and humour. Whether given the impression that Alexia is rocking out at a night club, when actually dancing alone in her room, or observing Justina attempting to find a Wi-Fi signal in field for late night calls with her beau, the documentary reminds viewers that their lives are never as gloomy as they could be.
The sense of optimism that runs throughout culminates in a finale that is just delightful to behold. While being gifted a mansion turns out to be far more cumbersome than one would assume, The Castle serves as an engaging reminder that we are more than just the roles we often play in society.