To Be Dead/Being Dead

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Vienna International Film Festival

VIENNA — This highly uneven film, a first feature by the 27-year-old Manuel Ferrari, doesn’t always work, but it always demonstrates an active cinematic imagination, even when it fails. The intellectual hi-jinks begin with the film’s title, which at first glance appears to be a simple repetition, but the two parts are subtly differentiated by an accent mark over the first word. Though the director has admitted that the distinction is untranslatable, and is somewhat baffling even in Spanish, it means something like “How To Be Dead/Being Dead,” and is apparently intended to represent the gap between the characters’ and the director’s points of view.

Commercial possibilities for the film are virtually non-existent, in any format, and even in Argentina. Still, it announces the arrival of a refreshing new talent in the increasingly crowded and exciting Argentinian New Wave. Festival programmers especially should give this avant-garde yet always approachably human film a serious look.

The film is centered totally, even claustrophobically, on three young men. (The three characters and actors have the same names.)  The plot isn’t always clear, but it seems to revolve around the attempt by one of them to fake his kidnapping to escape from the clutches of his overprotective parents.  The rest of the film then proceeds to document, in a strange part of Buenos Aires — the city comes to resemble a fourth main character — the verbal interactions, à la Tarantino, among the three characters.

What makes this film different than a thousand others of its ilk is the freshness of gesture, framing and camera angle that Ferrari brings to the task.  Also his attitude toward his characters, and their attitude toward themselves and those they encounter, seem new and different.

The humor is surrealistic yet never forced.  When the men play spontaneous, pun-filled word games with each other that don’t really go anywhere, they never  congratulate themselves on how clever they are and how superior they are to everyone else.  This is just the way they are, and director Ferrari seems content to document their encounter with the world, and each other, rather than impose a rigid script.  Ferrari is also adept at using an organ-based music track in uncanny counterpoint with whatever we happen to be seeing on the screen.

Shot in an often highly poetic black and white, the film also takes time for face-to-face, one-on-one interviews with each character.  A common theme in all the interviews is the overwhelming, and probably nefarious, weight of publicity in their lives and, by extension, in our lives as well.  Adding to this motif is the persistent presence of surveillance cameras operated by the police, a presence that occupies the final third of the film.
 
But the heavyweight themes seem more an afterthought and aren’t really worked out to the extent they should be.  Ferrari’s strength lies rather in his easy rapport with his characters, and his visually and aurally imaginative ways of making them interesting to us, despite everything.

Production Companies:  Campeon Ciné    
Cast:  Ignacio Rogers, Nahuel Viale, Julian GTello, Ines Efron.
Director:   Manuel Ferrari.
Screenwriter:  Manuel Ferrari, Nicolas Zukerfeld.
Director of photography:  Fernando Lockett.
Production designer:  Clara Picasso.
Editor:  Hernan Hevia.
Sales:  Campeon Ciné.
No rating, 78 minutes.

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