The Perfect Stranger: Busan Film Review

A familiar but moderately entertaining diversion.

Toni Bestard’s unassuming debut has a Being There quality as a stranger with no Spanish language skills completely transforms a Spanish village by means of his silence and stares.

When a stranger wanders into a rural Spanish hamlet he has just enough of an unwitting influence to touch and change the lives of most of its residents in this charming albeit totally by-the-numbers Being There-wannabe, The Perfect Stranger. With a lack of star power, the familiar subject matter will make director Toni Bestard’s unassuming debut a hard sell, but limited release in Europe isn’t out of the question; Asian distribution will be more of a challenge outside festival play. Ultimately, it’s an intimate film that will play best on cable.

Mark O’Reilly (Colm Meaney) crashes in an abandoned shop one evening after slipping into a little village unnoticed. The following morning, hearing-impaired sensitive loser (there’s always a sensitive loser) Biel (Guiem Juaneda), angry pot dealer Celia (Noomi Rapace-lite Natalia Rodríguez), and egregiously optimistic cop Amancio (Carlos Santos) are among the locals that find him there, jumping to the conclusion that he’s there to re-open the store and give the town a much-needed economic and social shot in the arm.

Biel and Celia start hanging around with Mark despite their inability to speak his language. Before you know it, Mark has become the town counselor, whose every blank stare and response of silence is taken to mean whatever it is his conversational partner requires. The most entertaining is Isabel (Ana Wagener, Biutiful), a woman desperate to get pregnant and who’s trying with more than one man.

Of course, Mark has his reason for being in town, which is revealed in a series of short flashbacks. Eventually, everyone finds him/herself and becomes a better person.

The Perfect Strangergoes a fair way on the strength of its requisite quirk, and cinematographer Nicolás Pinzón Sarmiento bathes the images in a soft glow that contrasts nicely with the underlying distress of the town’s denizens. And that’s all the film is really interested in. Mark’s arrival brings their individual wants and needs to the surface as well as a smidgen of hope to a dying town. Their ambitions are humble, which lends a nice veracity to the proceedings. Naturally, the moral of the story is that the ability to make drastic life changes was there all along.

The cast is the film’s real ace in the hole: Though Rodríguez plays the so-called bad girl, she manages a depth of character that allows Celia to exceed the sum of her archetypical parts. When Biel finally lashes out against his overbearing mother, it’s free of the histrionics usually partnered with youthful rebellion. The cop obsessed with Celia’s drug dealing, Vidal (Xisco Segura, who could easily be Jeremy Irons’ long lost Spanish brother), makes peace with her without too much melodrama.

Meaney, still best known as Chief O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation despite years of strong supporting work in cinema, is effortlessly understated, conveying bafflement and amusement with just the right gestures and glances. Anyone who’s seen enough films like this could see its coda coming from a mile away, but Bestard and writer Arturo Ruiz keep their thematic ambitions modest and let the actors tell the story.

Venue: Busan International Film Festival, World Cinema World Premiere

Production companies: Singular Audiovisual, IB3 Televiso & Optim TV

Cast: Colm Meaney, Natalia Rodríguez, Guiem Juaneda, Ana Wagener, Carlos Santos, Xisco Seguro, Pascal Ulli

Director: Toni Bestard

Screenwriter: Arturo Ruiz

Producer: Miquel Verd, Enric Canals, Colm Meaney

Director of photography: Nicolás Pinzón Sarmiento

Production designer: Diana de Lacuadra

Music: Alejandro Román

Costume designer: Inés Glorian

Editor: Marti Roca

Sales: High Point Films

No rating, 89 minutes