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Headline-grabbing issues like fake news and real estate fraud are shrink-wrapped to the size of a rural Chilean pueblo in Tomas Alzamora’s Little White Lie. Alzamora’s tale is based on a true story and has about it the air of a well-told anecdote, so easily and straightforwardly does its engaging, ingenious fable unfold. And though it delivers few surprises and certainly never comes anywhere close to tackling the darker consequences of its setup, its successful (and often very funny) transplanting of major contempo themes to an affectionately portrayed backwoods context signal Alzamora as a new Latin American talent to watch.
Edgardo (Rodrigo Salinas, whose bear-like physique is just right for his role as the film’s comic heart) is a journo on a newspaper in a Chilean backwater pueblo where nothing ever happens (“Morgue Goes Out of Business for Lack of Bodies,” runs one rather desperate headline). The fact that nothing ever happens is a problem in what one character calls a ghost town: The paper isn’t selling, there’s no advertising and the owner — the corrupt, scary Don Fabian (Daniel Antivilo) — is furious.
After knocking over the town drunk and believing him dead, Edgardo and his photographer sidekick Vladimir (Ernesto Melendez) set it up to look like a murder and publish the story. Not surprisingly, sales revive, which inspires them to generate further sensationalistic stories, sometimes uploading internet images rather than their own. But when, after a drunken night out in the fields, Edgardo and Vladimir awaken in the middle of what seems to be a crop circle, things become darker and Don Fabian spots an opportunity. (The use of crop circles as a platform for debate on media manipulation feels very deja vu.) Following Edgardo’s elevation to local celebrity status, the film then enters a slightly flat and confusing stretch from which it emerges at the end with a couple of neat plot twists in which, inevitably, the fakery comes back to haunt him.
Some details aren’t particularly plausible — how the police feel about the drunk’s dead body, for example, is not addressed, especially when the victim turns up later — but the virtues of Little White Lie are more in its spirit than its plot. The characters, though mostly undeveloped and in the case of Don Fabian, heavily stereotyped, are well-played, with Salinas — who appears in every scene but one — displaying the savvy and presence to hold it all together.
He is aided in this by the reliably excellent Catalina Saavedra (best known internationally for her 2009 multiple prize-winning performance in Sebastian Silva’s The Maid) as Edgardo’s loopy, highly medicated sister; the love-hate relationship between Edgardo and Vladimir is likewise enjoyably rendered. At intervals, the script takes a break to linger on the longing behind Edgardo’s life, perhaps best encapsulated in a vertically shot image of him lying naked on a bed, plucking melancholy arpeggios on a beaten-up guitar. The film’s most effective moments come via such touching off-message sequences as this, among them the beautiful, regularly used transition shots showing Edgardo and Vladimir traveling to work over a river in a rickety cable car.
The film is punctuated with apparently authentic TV footage in which local people recount the true events which apparently inspired the movie. Indeed, much of the charm of Little White Lie comes from its rendering of the small-town milieu which the director grew up in, and his affection for it is palpable — indeed, some of the extras seem to be local folk. The script’s treatment of the townsfolk as a gullible collective, utterly in thrall to whatever the press is telling them is true, feels patronizing but up-to-date — a fair enough reflection of what our manipulative press culture has engendered, where entertainment value so often takes priority over a “truth” which some are telling us doesn’t exist anyway.
Production company: Equeco
Cast: Rodrigo Salinas, Catalina Saavedra, Ernesto Melendez, Daniel Antovilo, Jonas Sanche
Director-screenwriter: Tomas Alzamora
Producer: Pablo Calisto
Director of photography: Jonathan Maldonado
Production designer: Michelle Mege
Editors: Tomas Alzamora, Roberto Doveris
Composer: Martin Schlotfeldt
Venue: Miami International Film Festival
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