Tuesday, January 18, 2011


There have been exciting cinematic rumblings in Argentina the last couple of years, working quite outside the traditional channels of government funding, and coming largely from the group formed around Mariano Llinás, he of the terrific Historias Extraordinarias. That 4-hour masterpiece was edited by Buenos Aires Film University professor Alejo Moguillansky (Llinás returns the favour here) and his own feature Castro is exemplary of the local climate of experimentation and possiblity. Inspired by Hugo Santiago’s 1969 Borges-derived Invasión and adapted from Beckett’s novel Murphy (in the same way Rivette adapts Balzac and Tourneur – ie with new meaning to the word “loosely”) the source is an excuse to kick-start a movie vying for the title of fastest-paced-of-all-time.

It begins as it means to go on, with a woman and two men running helter-skelter through the streets in pursuit of a third man. The pace barely lets up: when the characters aren’t running (and they frequently do so even when there’s no apparent need), their dialogue is fired off almost as fast as humanly possible. The film was built through improvisations, which no doubt contributed to the dexterity of the exchanges, as well as creating a tightened modulation to the choreography of the chases (they’re by no means simply running from A to B) as well as, presumably, sparking the large number of great little throwaway gags which pepper the film.

The man being chased is called Castro. He’s being pursued by a mysterious gang of four, including his almost-ex-wife (relishably mean, she requires literal ass-licking) whose motives and relationships are unclear, and who are forever sending one another notes and messages (I’m getting the feeling the Argentines are fond of Rivette). Castro is madly in love with Celia, the only character who strolls (pursued with an amusingly conspicuous umbrella signal system) but she wants him to get a job. This presents Castro with a philosophical problem: if he gets a job he will no longer be the person she loves now, and to earn a living, he declares, is to waste one’s life away. He gets one anyway, via a fortuitous stranger, a job that makes no sense but which does graduate the physical freneticism to a crazy game of musical cars. But Castro’s existential crisis must come to a head, and he quits in amusingly appropriate fashion to usher in the almost effectively bleak finale.

For all its kinetic energy – with perfectly apt silents-type piano accompaniment – the film finally doesn’t amount to much more than an exhibition of that energy. As striking as the ending is, the sudden gravity feels unearned. The breakneck pace is startling, the real-street camerawork extremely deft (though shot on some pretty ugly video format) and the whole project is planned and executed with skill and humour. The spurious plot indicates that it is a film that is an excuse for itself, which is not frequently not a bad thing, and as rollicking as it may be, it cannot in the end quite transcend its own conception as a most enjoyable exercise.

d/sc Alejo Moguillansky p Laura Citarella, Mariano Llinás ph Gustavo Biazzi ed Alejo Moguillansky, Mariano Llinás ad Ana Cambre cast Edgardo Castro, Julia Martínez Rubio, Alberto Suárez, Carla Crespo, Esteban Lamothe, Gerardo Naumann
(2008, Arg, 88m)

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