Norberto's Deadline: Film Review

An actor-director’s heartfelt valentine to the world of theater.

South American actor Daniel Hendler's directorial debut follows a down-on-his-luck protagonist who turns his life around after joining a theatrical production.

BUENOS AIRES -- Daniel Hendler is one of South America’s most admired actors. In 2004 he won the Silver Bear in Berlin for his starring role in the Argentinean film Lost Embrace. Now Hendler makes his directorial debut with Norberto’s Deadline, a Uruguayan-Argentinean co-production that was one of the best received films at the recently concluded Buenos Aires International Film Festival. Set in Montevideo, the film may not travel too far beyond the South American market, but it’s sure to please any audiences that happen to catch it.

This is an actor’s movie in the best sense. It shows no great visual flair, but it’s an astutely observed portrait of the everyday lives of a group of very well defined characters. Our hero, Norberto (Fernando Amaral), is suffering through some personal and professional difficulties. He lost one job and now is working as a rental agent for a real estate company, but he is paid only on commission, and sales are not exactly booming. He and his wife Silvia (Eugenia Guerty) have also lost the spark in their marriage. The disruption in Norberto’s life is aptly symbolized by his broken car alarm, which keeps bleating at all the wrong moments.

However, Norberto’s life changes when he and his wife and some friends attend an amateur theatrical performance, and Norberto catches the acting bug. He decides to sign up for acting classes, and although the director of the troupe is a pretentious windbag, the younger actors in the company provide a jolt of vitality for Norberto. As they prepare a production of The Seagull, Norberto discovers not just a new vocation but the enthusiasm and sense of purpose that he had lost.

The film pays tribute to the actor’s craft with sly ironic humor as well as affection. All of the characters come alive. Even Norberto’s overbearing boss at the real estate firm always seems recognizably human. And we feel for the cranky elderly couple whom Norberto must evict if he hopes to rent out their apartment. Amaral’s hangdog charm keeps us on Norberto’s side, and all the other actors nail their roles with understated skill. There’s no major epiphany at the end of the movie, but we savor the small changes that give the downtrodden Norberto a new lease on life.

Venue: Buenos Aires International Film Festival
Production: Cordon Films
Cast: Fernando Amaral, Eugenia Guerty, Cesar Troncoso, Roberto Suarez, Silvina Sabater
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Hendler
Producers: Micaela Sole, Daniel Hendler, Sebastian Aloi
Director of photography: Arauco Hernandez
Edtior: Andres Tambornino
No rating, 88 minutes