Daily Archives: April 11, 2003

The Great Gato

Argentinean-born composer, lyricist, and singer Javier Patricio Gato Perez (1950-’90), who emigrated to Spain in his youth, is the subject of this engaging Spanish documentary by Ventura Pons (2002, 103 min.), in which lively performances of Perez’s music are nicely juxtaposed with gab from his friends and relatives, both parts relaxed and intimate. El Gran Gato (the Big Cat) synthesized Gypsy songs, Catalan rumbas, rock, and elements of South American music while adding colorful and somewhat literary lyrics, and this is a warm tribute to his talent. In Catalan with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Mondays In The Sun

Six friends (including Javier Bardem, Luis Tosar, and Jose Angel Egido) struggle to make ends meet after being laid off from their shipyard jobs in this 2002 feature by writer-director Fernando Leon de Aranoa. Like Fellini’s I Vitelloni, this Spanish-French-Italian coproduction is a bittersweet epic about frustration and relative inertia, though with a somewhat older and wiser group of layabouts, and its contemporary relevance made it a box-office hit in Spain, which nominated it for an Oscar. In Spanish with subtitles. 113 min. (JR) Read more


Riding a subway, an aging doctor relives traumas associated with the kidnappings and killings of Argentina’s dirty war of the 70s, including the loss of his daughter. Director Luis Cesar D’Angiolillo adapted a play by actor and theater director Eduardo Pavlovsky, leading us through a procession of melodramatic memories and nightmares that are less evocative of Fellini and Bergman than of their heavier imitators (e.g., Sidney Lumet in The Pawnbroker); this 2001 Argentinean drama also reminded me of Arthur Miller, but not at his best. The suitably oppressive title, which means power, is glossed at both the beginning and end of the picture to make the feeling of doom even more inescapable. 89 min. (JR) Read more


The title of this so-so Argentinean indie (2002, 93 min.) means heritage or inheritance, which apparently alludes both to the 24-year-old German (Adrian Witzke) who arrives in Buenos Aires with minimal Spanish looking haplessly for the love of his life and to the aging, cantankerous Italian restaurant owner (Rita Cortese) who takes him in and recalls how she once came to the city for similar reasons. I wasn’t happy with the Muzak-like score, the predictable sentimental flourishes, or Witzke’s inexpressiveness, but Cortese has her moments. Written and directed by Paula Hernandez. In Spanish with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Oscar Aleman: A Swinging Life

As you might guess from the banal subtitle, this 2002 documentary by Hernan Gaffet is a less than satisfying look at the intriguing Argentinean jazz guitarist and entertainer Oscar Aleman (1909-’80). Raised by an impoverished Spanish-Indian family and untrained as a musician, Aleman made a name for himself in the 30s as part of Josephine Baker’s Paris orchestra (and may have been her lover); World War II drove him back to Argentina, where he eventually became even more popular. Gaffet’s approach is frustrating: he provides analyses of Aleman’s improvisational style but no musical illustrations, and most of the film consists of photos and talking heads with random bits of his music chugging in the background. But a few tantalizing clips show how charismatic Aleman could be as a guitarist, singer, dancer, and comic actor. In Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. (JR) Read more


After 30 years in prison in Rosario, two small-time stumblebums (Federico Luppi and Ulises Dumontthe latter a significant figure in classic Argentinean cinema) try to recover their hidden loot, with messy results. Writer-director Rodrigo Grande has an inventive and nuanced style; he knows how to fill a wide-screen frame and even manages to incorporate a couple of intriguing musical numbers in his melancholy tale. But, as with Catch Me if You Can, the offhand misogyny leaking around the edges of this 2001 drama spoiled most of it for me. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. (JR) Read more


Writer-director Austin Chick debuts with this Generation X love triangle, set at Sarah Lawrence in 1993, then updated a decade later, with spouses coming into the picture. Up to a point, I was engaged by Chick’s charactersa laid-back animator (Mark Ruffalo) romancing one woman (Maya Stange), alienating her by going after her friend and roommate (Kathleen Robertson), then finally realizing he loves the first woman. But that point passed pretty soon after the credits rolled, and nothing has come back to haunt me since. With Petra Wright. 91 min. (JR) Read more