‘Clues To Go Back Home’ (‘Pistas Para Volver a Casa’): Film Review

Sheer entertainment value makes up for flaws in this warm and winsome Argentinian dramedy

This first solo outing from Argentinian Jazmin Stuart features a bickering brother and sister on the road, in search of treasure and the truth

Family drama, black comedy, road movie, thriller, and farce: generically, Jazmin Stuart’s Clues to Go Home has it all, and it’s a miracle that it works. But work it does, driven along by a couple of winning characters given life by its fine performances and a breathless but controlled forward momentum. As soon as it’s over, the plotting questions multiply: but Stuart’s first film as solo director is canny enough to ensure that it isn’t until after it’s over that the questions come. Until then, Clues is intriguing and distinctive, a comedy with more than just local appeal which warrants further play at the international art house.

Nervy Dina (played with an infectious liveliness by Erika Rivas) is a hard-smoking, lonesome laundry worker, given to phoning the numbers she finds in the pockets of the clothes she’s cleaning before guiltily hanging up. (Such little human touches, which make for much of the appeal of both the character and the film, are in increasingly short supply through the second, plottier part.)

While Dina has self-esteem issues, her brother Pascual (Juan Minujin, the couple were apparently named by their mother after a couple of cheesy 60s Italian singers) is an embittered down-at-heel middle-aged divorcee with kids. On hearing that their father (vet Hugo Arana) has been hospitalized in a remote country hospital after setting out in search of his former wife and their mother, Celina (Beatriz Spelzini), bro and sis undertake one of those cinematic journeys which will help them learn about the world, about one another, and about themselves.

As with so many Argentinian comedies, their sibling chat and bickering is one of the most enjoyable things about the film, and there’s plenty of it as the car breaks down. When they arrive at the hospital, Dad’s delirious, talking about buried money and Celina (Beatriz Spelzini), who abandoned the family when they were young. Much of the film’s less successful latter part is taken up with the hunt for this treasure, which unexpectedly also brings a meeting, after 30 years, with Celina.

While Clues never really pauses to really explore the world of emotion it’s playing into -- a troubled sibling relationship, a dying father, and an absent mother would already be enough material for an entire TV series in different hands - the script is nevertheless good at evoking them. One vertical shot of mother and children lying foetal in a field, for example is really moving, but too-briefly so before the script dashes off in search of another genre to flirt with. Such high-speed high-jinx have their price, and in this case there are indeed a couple of unlikely coincidences, but again the film’s persuasive warm, good-natured air helps us forgive it. Only one of its multiple storylines, featuring a couple of comic-book crooks chasing the pair in pursuit of the money, feels merely gratuitous before petering out into nothing.

Central to it all is the relationship between Dina and Pascual, which evolves slowly from mutual distrust to acceptance. Both actors are fine, and the comic sparks fly between them, but it’s Rivas who steals the show by suggesting, without ever pausing for breath, a multi-layered and complex character -- a woman, in fact, on the edge of a nervous breakdown. This is best revealed during one scene, a gripping and hilarious acting tour de force, when Dina is stranded at night in the broken-down vehicle and all her fears and insecurities rush in at once.

Guillermo Guareschi’s score is amiable enough, but too often pulled in to signal mood in a film which sometimes struggles to unite its many moods.

Production companies: 2MCine, Tres Mentes, Aleph Media
Cast: Erica Rivas, Juan Minujin, Hugo Arana, Beatriz Spelzini
Director, screenwriter: Jazmin Stuart
Producers: Juan Pablo Martinez, Maria Eugenia Martinez, Alberto Trigo, Juan Carlos Fisner, Javier Martinez Foffani, Fernando Sokolowicz
Director of photography: Daniel Ortega
Production designer: Veronica Romero
Editor: Federico Mackeprang
Composer: Guillermo Guareschi
Casting director:
Sales: 2MCine

No rating, 89 minutes