Mauro: Buenos Aires Review

Courtesy of Resentimiento de Provincia Films
A refreshingly unpreachy, unmanipulative social crit drama with a compelling commitment to truth-telling.

Hernan Rosselli’s debut about a wannabe Buenos Aires forger was one of the talking points of the recent BAFICI fest.

An engrossing X-ray of life in a southern barrio of Buenos Aires that doubles as a study of a society in crisis, Mauro ripples with quiet virtues. First-timer Hernan Rosselli has brought to his debut feature the same precision and craft as his troubled protagonist brings to his forgery, and the result is a slow-burning, intense item that exists somewhere on the increasingly blurred line between feature and documentary, harking back to established films such as Pablo Trapero’s Crane World and indeed to the Romanian new wave in its dark, focused gaze and its unpatronizing treatment of social issues. Festival dates look assured.

Mauro (Mauro Martinez) has a job in a metalworking business run by his heavy metal musician friend Charly (Charly Botto)  that’s going through tough times. Mauro has a long-term, low-level drugs problem: His mother (Patricia Fouret, Rosselli’s own mother), who devotes much time to painstakingly describing to Mauro the plotlines of movies she’s seen on the TV (Roman Holiday, Mutiny on the Bountry), unwittingly makes things worse by supplying him with sleeping pills.

On the side, Mauro is also passing off forged banknotes supplied to him by smiling thug taxi driver Ricardo (Ricardo Ruiz). But as a job, this is just as precarious as the metalworking, so together with his housemate Luis (Jose Pablo Suarez) and Luis’s pregnant girlfriend Marcela (Victoria Bustamante), Mauro decides to set up his own counterfeit business. When he meets and falls for a new arrival in the city, played by Juliana Inae Simoes Risso, things start to get complicated as Mauro has to play off his professional and “emotional” commitments.

This is a film about doing a trade, and much time is spent in the observation of things being fabricated, whether it’s metal structures or money. The legal trade that Mauro has been involved in has not delivered what he expects it to, so that he’s been forced into illegality in search of a livelihood. The script is entirely non-judgmental about this, assuming that it’s just the downside of the entrepreneurial spirit that must come into play during times of economic crisis. In the abstract, Mauro is a portrait of a financial system which has been set up so that the have-nots will fight each other and will end up with less than they had before.

So far, so political. But as drama, too, despite its stubborn refusal to play audience-pleasing, easy-moralizing games, this is quietly absorbing fare. Everything about the film, from the performances to the settings to the carefully-worked sense of atmospherics, has a low-key, intimate authenticity. This is not the patronizing top-down approach to social cinema that too often has people who have making movies about people who don’t. Rosselli is working with people and places he knows well.  It’s an approach that often brings with it the kind of indulgence that has characters staring meaningfully off into space for ten minutes, but not here. The treatment is stripped-back and elliptical and busy, with no handy explanations supplied to aid the viewer. The high-precision editing, which creates a sometimes jolting juxtaposition between scenes, is therefore crucial.

As a character, Mauro already has the vaguely catatonic air of someone who has been gently defeated by a life which strikes him as somewhat baffling: he seems genuinely surprised that any girl should be interested in him, but dully resigned to just about everything else.

Visually, the primary approach is one of dark, grainy close-up intimacy, and the main focus is always on the people, but some exterior shots do incidentally evoke a kind of dirty, backstreets beauty. Mauro’s backstory is supplemented, in the film’s one concession to artificiality, by old Super 8 footage and voiceover from him which provides a little more insight. The brief, out-of-place use of a theater visit as a comment on the main action likewise feels like a concession to the purely cinematic which feels at odds with the commitment to authenticity that makes Mauro so distinctive.

Production: Resentimiento de Provincia Films
Cast: Mauro Martinez, Juliana Inae Simoes Risso, Jose Pablo Suarez, Victoria Bustamante, Pablo Ramos, Patricia Fouret, Ricardo Ruiz, Charly Botto
Producer, director, screenwriter, director of photography: Hernan Rosselli
Executive producers: Santiago Hadida, Nuria Arnaud
Production designer: Mariana Rosselli
Editor: Delfina Castagnino, Rosselli
Sound: Santiago Hadida, Carlos Herrera, Agustin Maldonado, Rosselli
Sales: Resentimiento de Provincia
No rating, 80 minutes