El Artista



Rome Film Festival

ROME -- What is art? It’s hard to think of a recent film that addresses this unanswerable question in a fresher way than “El Artista,” directed with style, verve and humor by young Argentines Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat. The tale of a hospital orderly who becomes famous selling a patient’s work as his own is funny and sophisticated, yes, but also strikes a deeper note. It’s a must-see for festival programmers and clever enough to find its way to limited release abroad.

Jorge Ramirez (played with deadpan normality by Sergio Pangaro) is an average Joe working in a retirement home. Somehow he hits on the idea of taking the drawings of the aged, mute Roman (Alberto Laiseca) to a fancy gallery. It is the beginning of a fairy-tale rise to success. From art critics and groupies, Jorge moves on to universities, museums and even television, until he is acclaimed the trendiest artist in Latin America. Unfortunately, as an opening funeral scene tells us, Romano dies, leaving Jorge with fame but no talent. Will it be enough to survive in the art world?

This first feature by Duprat and Cohn, who have a body of work and awards under their belt for experimental shorts and docs, has a light feeling to it, though it was made with great care. It strikes an interesting balance between obvious respect for true artists like Romano, whose hyper-concentration as he draws is fascinating to watch, and its send-up of the absurd trappings of modern art.

The contrast between the artist’s inner and outer worlds finds momentary, perfect balance in Romano and Jorge’s strangely symbiotic relationship. Another interpretation might be that they represent two sides of the modern artist: When the inner artist dies, only the empty shell of outer commerce and celebrity remains.

The film has a very original look thanks to essential, center-stage cinematography by Ricardo Monteoliva and the witty art direction by Lorena Llaneza. It vaunts the participation of art curator Andres Duprat (as scriptwriter and in the role of the art critic Emiliano) and famed Argentine artist Leon Ferrari (as co-producer). Ferrari also appears in a small role.

Production companies: Aleph Media, Costa Films, Barter, Istituto Luce, DTV Producciones.
Cast: Sergio Pangaro, Alberto Laiseca, Enrique Gagliese, Ana Laura Loza, Marcello Prayer, Andres Duprat.
Directors: Mariano Cohn, Gaston Duprat.
Screenwriter: Andres Duprat.
Producers: Eduardo Costantini, Alfredo Federico, Fernando Sokolowicz, Leon Ferrari, Gianluigi Gardani, Tore Sansonetti.
Executive producer: Belen de la Torre.
Director of photography: Ricardo Monteoliva.
Production designer: Lorena Llaneza.
Music: Diego Bliffeld.
Costumes: Lorena Llaneza.
Editor: Santiago Ricco.
Sales Agent: Costa Films, Buenos Aires.
No rating, 95 minutes.