Mother Plant (Planta madre): Huelva Review

This homage to Latin American culture is less interesting as drama than as a mood and music piece.

An aging Peruvian rocker journeys down the Amazon in search of his own personal heart of darkness in Gianfranco Quattrini’s second feature, co-scripted by Lucia Puenzo.

The old and the new of Latin America come together into a slightly woozy whole in Gianfranco Quattrini’s intriguing, flawed Mother Plant. This meandering tale of a frankly disagreeable 60’s rocker trying to settle scores and heal scars is dramatically pretty inert, but its ambitious attempts to fuse together disparate elements of the culture into something new are never less than interesting. Produced by members of the Puenzo family (father Luis won an Academy Award in 1984, daughter Lucia, co-scripting here, made Argentina’s Oscar submission this year), Plant should take root at festivals with a Latin-American slant.

Former rock star Diamond Santoro (Robertino Granados), his shades, stubble and attitude betraying his general state of malaise, returns from the U.S. to Iquitos in Peru to be met by the former girlfriend Pierina (Camila Perisse) of his long-deceased brother Nicky (Manuel Fanego), visions of whom regularly appear to him. Santoro feels responsible for his brother’s death, and hasn’t written a single song since it happened.

The idea is mooted that Santoro may play at a local concert of cumbia music -- the traditional Peruvian dance music that the rock of Santoro and his peers helped to displace in the 60s. But Santoro’s real reason for returning is that, guided by a notebook of Nicky’s, he wishes to undertake a journey which his brother could not -- to visit a shaman called Solon (real-life shaman, charisma-oozing Agustin Rivas Vasquez) deep in the Amazon jungle to try out a hallucinatory drug called ayahuasca. Accompanied by Pierina and two musicians, Fefe (Santiago Pedrero), and Pato (Rafael Ferro) -- in debt and on the run from a couple of nasty mafia types in a clumsily shoehorned-in subplot -- Santo sets out on a riverboat, amusingly called the Titanic VII, for Tres Fronteras, where Peru, Colombia and Brazil meet.

These atmospheric, beautifully-shot Amazon sequences are the film’s strongest. Throughout the duration, the action shuttles schematically between past and present. In the past, the brothers grow up, achieve stardom, and fall victim to sibling rivalry in scenes that are clichéd but grungily authentic with their Marshall stacks and their drugs – but forced into ellipsis, the script was always going to struggle to bring anything new to the table.

In the present, Granados shuffles grumpily around in an oddly-conceived role for which the instructions seem to have been to carefully excise every last drop of sympathy. While the younger Santoro (Juan Ignacio Martinez) was at least dynamic, in later life he’s just a wreck: while those who surround him might impressed by having the great Diamond Santoro in their midst, the viewer is less so. The result is that though for him the stakes of Santoro’s journey towards a form of hallucinogenic reconciliation with his brother are high for him personally, the viewer doesn’t feel them.

Buried under all of this there’s the interesting of story of how, after selling his soul to Americana in his music, Santoro can only find peace by returning to the very origins of his culture – but as a theme it does remain both buried and pretty much unexplored.

Director of photography Ivan Gierasinchuk’s widescreen makes the most of the wide, sluggish stretches of the Amazon as Santoro slowly drifts towards his heart of darkness. Gierasinchuk is also key to the memorably off-kilter, slightly trippy mood of the film, which is its strongest suit. Thankfully, it’s controlled and never strays into over-the-top, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas territory. The music made by the Santoro brothers in the 60’s is bog-standard heavy rock; the indigenous music-inflected sections work better.

The film's original title was Diamond Santoro y la soga de los muertosDiamond Santoro and the Dead Man’s Rope – which make more sense than the final title: although the mother of Santoro and Nicky is indeed conspicuous by her absence.

Production: Historias Cinematograficas, Puenzo Hnos, Planta Madre Cine, Alba Produzioni, Aluzcine
Cast: Robertino Granados, Manuel Fanego, Emiliano Carrazone, Camila Perisse, Agustín Rivas Vasquez, Rafael Ferro, Santiago Pedrero, Lucho Caceres, Manolo Rojas. Magdyel Ugaz, Andrea Prodan
Director: Gianfranco Quattrini
Screenwriters: Lucia Puenzo, Leonel D'Agostino, Quattrini
Producers: Luis Puenzo, Esteban Puenzo, Quattrini, Cesar Fajardo, Rosanna Seregni
Director of photography: Ivan Gierasinchuk
Music: Ariel Minimal, Marcelo Chaves, Lito Castro, Agustin Rivas Vasquez
Production designer: Marcelo Chaves, Sandro Angobaldo
Editor: Hugo Primero, Quattrini
Sound: Carlos Abbate
Wardrobe: Ludmila Fincic, Leslie Hinojosa