‘The Kid’ (‘El Guri’): Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
An attractively skewed take on unhappily skewed lives

Argentinian Sergio Mazza’s fifth feature is a rural tale of childhood isolation in a traumatized town

“Everything’s so slow around here”, somebody complains in The Kid, and they’re right. But despite its sometimes too-faithful rendering of the glacial pace of life in a godforsaken Argentinean pueblo near the Uruguayan border, there’s enough interesting turbulence beneath the still surface of this riverside-set tale of a motherless child to justify the ride. Shot through with a claustrophobia underscored by its multiple unanswered questions, but more audience-friendly than Sergio Mazza’s previous work, The Kid merits further festival play but lacks the punch to take it to the next level.

Gonzalo (Maximiliano Garcia), the titular kid, lives with his ancient great-grandmother (Francisca Filippini) and his baby sister, having been abandoned a few days earlier by his mother for reasons which will be a long time in coming. He spends his time wandering between home, a local vets run by Julio (Daniel Araoz) and Alicia (Susana Hornos), and the bar, run by Felipe (Federico Luppi): sometimes he’s pestered about the whereabouts of his former prostitute mother by the mysterious, desperate Omar (Adrian Taravano).

The viewer’s ignorance about his mother matches Gonzalo’s, except that while Gonzalo believes she might return, the other inhabitants know she won’t. After Lorena’s (Sofia Gala Castiglione) car breaks down when she knocks down a dog -- The Kid features a high incidence of strays and sick animals, and Gonzalo’s another -- Lorena is forced to sleep there for a few nights and in doing so, starts to unearth a few of the town’s secrets, not least that Julio might actually be Gonzalo’s father. Gonzalo decides that since his mother’s gone, Lorena can replace her.

The script is slow getting everything into place, but just when frustration is kicking in you realize that an engrossingly portrait of a bizarre, half-abandoned community has been painted, one where the standard moral laws haven’t taken hold. Julio drives around at night, looking for sick animals to tend for, as though driven to atone for something. Felipe’s bar is a former brothel, a fact he now anxiously wants to hide. Alicia keeps a picture of her two dead children.

The whole town is infused with a soft sadness, subtly evoked by Alfredo Altamirano’s fine camera work, which brings rich light of dawn and dusk intact to the screen. But it’s a cruel, psychologically unwell place too, one in which the inhabitants seem to care more for dogs than for children and where their assorted past traumas have made them afraid to feel and to speak.

The characters mostly keep a tight rein on their emotions, so that a storyline with much melodramatic potential never strays into melodramatic territory: Daniel Gomez’s plaintive guitar comes closer to plucking the heartstrings than the action ever does, and the mood is just a touch too damped down.

Performances are solid across the board, particularly from the defiantly uncute and credible Garcia, from the vet Araoz as the unutterably melancholy, rich-voiced Julio, and from Luppi as the barman dreaming of escape, underlining his status as Argentinean cinema’s elder statesman. With every passing film Luppi looks more like a salty seadog, and watching him take his time can be more engrossing than watching lesser actors giving it all they’ve got.

On the negative side, it’s hard to believe in a mother (Belen Blanco) who would just walk away from her children in the way that Camila has, even for the stated reasons: rather than tackling the psychology, the script just blanks it, leaving a credibility hole. Likewise, there is a thudding literalness about the final under-credits sequence, uncomfortably at odds with the deftness of what’s come before.

Production company: Masa Latina
Cast: Maximiliano Garcia, Daniel Araoz, Sofia Gala Castiglione, Susana Hornos, Federico Luppi, Belen Blanco, Adrian Taravano
Director, screenwriter: Sergio Mazza
Producer: Paula Mastellone
Director of photography: Alfredo Altamirano
Production designer: Matías Flocco
Costume designer: Julieta Harca
Editors: Sergio Mazza, Martín Musarra
Composer: Daniel Viglietti, Daniel Gomez
Sales: Masa Latina
No rating, 87 minutes

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