San Sebastian Film Festival, Latin Horizons

Dutch-Peruvian documaker Heddy Honigmann has a seductive way of drawing audiences into a subject for which they might not ordinarily cross the street. In "Forever" it was the fascinating story of the Pere-Lachaise cemetery in Paris. In "Oblivion" her subject is rather less compelling: Lima, the capital of Peru and home to 8 million people fed up with decades of political mismanagement and corruption. Offering an unusual personal take on the problems of Latin America, doc could appeal to upscale TV patrons after its festival run.

The theme is memory, or rather the lack of it shown by a long succession of presidents, who forget that Peruvians are extremely poor thanks to their policies. Film opens on a worldwise bartender who remarks that the country's history is a loosely-mixed cocktail of corruption, coups, terrorism and pseudo-democratic elections. Across the street from his elegant bar is the presidential palace, cynically described as "an island of happiness surrounded by Peru."

Jibes aside, the film presents Lima as a city of the poor, from the genteel poverty of tailors and waiters to the misery of street kids who juggle and turns cartwheels at stop lights, begging coins from drivers. Film's weapon is irony and its main strategy is to contrast the grandiose inaugurations of presidents like Alberto Fujimori and Alan Garcia with impoverished craftsmen and the plucky shoe-shine boys, blind musicians and child acrobats who live off the street.

The clever, good-natured characters Honigmann draws on are meant to embody the inventive spirit of Peruvians, making "Oblivion" much easier to watch than the more dire films about Latin America. It is hard to relate them to the word "horror" invoked by the poet Jose Watanabe at the end of the film; theirs is more of a social and personal drama than tragedy on a grand scale. Still her point about the absence of government interest in its citizens is strongly made, if a little repetitive.

Production company: Cobos Films in association with Ikon, ZDF, Arte.
Director: Heddy Honigmann.
Screenwriters: Heddy Honigmann, Judith Vreriks, Sonia Goldenberg.
Producer: Carmen Cobos.
Director of photography: Adri Schover.
Editor: Danniel Danniel (SIC), Jessica de Konig.
Sales Agent: Films Transits International, Quebec.
93 minutes.