El critico: Film Review

El Critico Film Still - H 2014
Courtesy of HC Films

El Critico Film Still - H 2014

A sharp-eyed, playful romantic comedy for movie-literate movie lovers.

An Argentina/Chile coproduction comedy aimed at the arty end of the mainstream, directed by critic turned director Hernan Guerschuny.

Perhaps not all film critics are like the emotionally repressed, misanthropic, arrogant, movie-jaded hero of El critico, but it’s a stereotype that the film plays into with gusto and intelligence. A film about a critic who starts out detesting romantic comedies only to find that his own life is starting to bear a frightening relationship to one; this is an enjoyable, wry homage to both film and to movie criticism, which has been getting a warm reception from Spanish and Latin American festivals and Argentinean audiences, and which has been picked up by Music Box for US distribution.

Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) is a critic for a daily paper who sees his own life as a French nouvelle vague movie to the extent that he even thinks in French: In what he calls his maladie du cinema, for him the real world has become like a vulgar, unoriginal film. Tellez is down on his luck, recently separated from Roxana (Ana Katz), hunting for a new apartment, and being hassled by his sister to look after his niece Agatha (Telma Crisanti), a character who’s been squeezed in merely to advance the plot.

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Visually, particularly over the first hour, this is extremely well-achieved. Tellez’s vision of his own life as a French movie comes with a cool bebop score attached; one set piece splices together fragments of When Harry Met Sally, Love Actually, Groundhog Day and others into a brilliant montage accompanied by Tellez’s deadpan deconstruction of it for the movie innocent Agatha: “Don’t forget to put in rain, lots of rain… and finally, a run. We don’t know why, but they always run”.

The film ripples with quotable dialogue, such as that delivered by director Arce (Ignacio Rogers), who is bent on taking revenge on Tellez for a negative review: “You’re not failed film makers,” he tells Tellez and his nerdish cronies, including the amusingly deadpan Schuster (Daniel Kargieman, looking slightly like an aging Michael Moore). “You’re failed movie reviewers”. (One aspect of El critico that critics will enjoy is that it empowers them: This is a world in which a negative review from a particular reviewer can still break a movie, a notion that’s perhaps growing increasingly implausible in this brave new world of aggregated review sites and blogs.)

Tellez’s simple and somewhat pathetic life, in which he basically shuttles between screening room, bar and bedsit, is inevitably complicated by the arrival in it of Sofia (Dolores Fonzi), the kind of scatterbrained free spirit so beloved of French comedy, and hence of Tellez. Her arrival generates some of the film’s funniest moments, as the critic wonders in puzzlement why he is seeing her in slow motion: With horror he realizes that he’s starting to become a player in the romantic comedy of his own life.

But with about half an hour to run, the script runs out of new ideas and it starts to look a little too much like one of the romantic comedies it’s happily been dismantling, its inner workings now laid disconcertingly bare.

It’s a concept rich in possibilities and Guerschuny explores them with wit and precision, though the treatment is content to remain fuzzy, warm and superficial: There’s little psychological or emotional probing of the kind that say Charlie Kaufman can work up from a similar premise, and the satire is gentle, not cutting. Neither does the script ever deliver anything off-the-wall hilarious: Once the setup has been established, things proceed pretty much as expected.

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That said, El critico does revive for a modern audience those 60s and 70s questions about the relationship between the insulated world of the elitist movie critic, anxious for something new and challenging, and public taste, anxious for the reaffirming fantasies of genre.

As the film’s heart, the bearded, bearlike Spregelburd delivers a quiet, unemphatic performance, at its best when at its clumsiest and most stone-faced, magnificently tragic and hilarious for one brief, complex moment as he breaks into tears during a screening of some standard romcom slosh. Tellez is a repugnant character, saved by his issues; Fonzi is a good foil, but Sofia is little more than love interest.

Audiences will have undemanding fun picking up the multiple references, whether in the form of the visuals (Titanic), the dialogue (Jerry Maguire) or the score, which is woven deeply into the film's meaning: Juan Blas Caballero and Pedro Onetto have done fine work in affectionately parodying those syrupy romcom crescendos.

Production: HC Films, Lagarto Cine, Storyboard Media

Cast: Rafael Spregelburd, Dolores Fonzi, Ignacio Rogers, Telma Crisanti, Ana Katz

Director, screenwriter: Hernan Guerschuny

Producers: Pablo Udenio, Guerschuny, Hugo Castro Fau, Carolina Alvarez, Gabriela Sandoval, Carlos Nunez

Director of photography: Marcelo Lavintman

Production designer: Maria Eugenia Sueiro

Editor: Agustin Rolandelli

Music: Juan Blas Caballero, Pedro Onetto

Sound: Emilio Biain, Lucas Ulecia

Wardrobe: Roberta Pesci

Sales: Music Box

No rating, 95 minutes