'Lulu': Toronto Review

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A punky and anarchic film as unruly as its protagonists

Buenos Aires-born director Luis Ortega looks at a young couple in love played by Ailin Salas and Nahuel Perez Biscayart

A young couple has a freewheeling existence on the streets of Buenos Aires in Lulu, the sixth feature of prolific Argentinian director Luis Ortega (Black Box, Monoblock). Named after its young and carefree protagonists, Ludmilla and Lucas, this feature is a punky exploration of youthful love and exuberance, complete with gun shots in the air, some de rigueur criminal activity and, of course, lots of animal carcasses (wait… what?). However, despite its hipster trappings and admirably undisciplined narrative, the film never quite coheres into something that’s also emotionally resonant, which’ll translate into some festival play but next to no real future as a theatrical title.

Ludmila (Ailin Salas), a character in her early 20s already seen in Ortega’s short Ludmila in Cuba from last year, lives in a tiny utilities shack in a public park in Buenos Aires because she can’t stand the pressure at home anymore, where her father has severe memory problems. To make matters worse, Ludmila’s got a bullet lodged in her body, near her spinal cord, so a doctor tells her to keep things calm and not dance or run because he can’t remove it and it might move. But she’s the kind of young woman who can barely sit still even for a doctor’s appointment and who also doesn’t seem to think all that much of the fact that it was her beanpole boyfriend, Lucas (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who put the bullet there in the first place, since he’s a great fan of celebratory gunfire.

In many ways, the film is as unruly as the characters, simply following them around as they try to fill their days. To make some money, Lucas has a job of sorts as the helper of a craggy old man, Hueso (Argentinian musician Daniel Melingo), who picks up animal carcasses at the city’s butchers and meat stalls with his pickup truck, and who has a habit of playing his clarinet with both hands, especially when he’s on the road and his hands should be on the wheel.

All three protagonists seem to like the fact they live dangerously but in the moment, open to as many highs as they can get from doing exactly what they want. Lucas and Ludmila have an odd romantic relationship, however, with only Ludmila thinking about children but Lucas not adverse to try and find a better place to live for them even if he has no money. But the particulars of their strong if strange bond are never quite believable even in this punky alternate reality. This is especially the case for the duration of a subplot that sees Lucas follow a young mother home, where he asks her if he can drink her breast milk, she agrees, and he subsequently tries to calm down the jealous Ludmila by telling her he didn’t cheat on her, he just drank the other woman’s milk. The emotional significance of the entire sequence is lost as the odd-feeling (some might say lurid) details keep accumulating (the mother will be back later for another subplot that similarly raises more questions than it answers).

The countless shots of the animal carcasses Hueso collects also seem to strain for meaning — Everyone will be dead meat one day? Life and death are separated by gunfire? Something else entirely? — but finally don’t amount to more than arty inserts whose exact meaning remains obscure.

Biscayart, who looks like a Giacometti figurine with a hipster-y attempt at facial hair, is finally back on home turf after a string of European films, including the French films Deep in the Woods and Grand Central, Swiss production Left Foot Right Foot and Belgian romance All Yours. However, the character he plays is nothing more than a variation on all his previous happy-go-lucky, out-there boy-men with a raging inner fire but no real sense of the possible consequences of their acts. Opposite him, Salas is radiant and especially impressive in a very awkward sequence in which she finally visits her father and he mistakes her for Ludmila’s mother, one of the few moments in the film where her character’s pain comes into sharp focus, though it's not quite enough to make what follows very credible.

Modestly put together, Lulu at least has a pleasing sense of place.

Cast: Ailin Salas, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Daniel Melingo

Writer-Director: Luis Ortega

Producers: Ignacio Sarchi, Luis Ortega

Director of photography: Daniel Hermo

Production designer: Juan Giribaldi

Costume designer: Beatriz di Benedetto

Editor: Rosario Suarez

Music: Daniel Melingo


No rating, 84 minutes