'Roughneck' ('Boca de Pozo'): Film Review

Pensa&Rocca Cine
Solidly made and strongly played character study, though at times frustratingly indirect.

Gritty study of the troubled day-to-day of a drilling rig worker in Patagonia.

Of late, Latin America has produced several tightly-focused studies of middle-aged working men on the edge of a nervous breakdown, among them Chile’s prizewinning Dog Flesh (Fernando Guzzoni) and Juan Taratuto’s The Reconstruction, out of Argentina. The Argentinean Roughneck, Simon Franco's addition to the roster, is a similar combination of the richly evocative and the bleak. Featuring a driven-looking performance from Pablo Cedron, a familiar face from a range of movies that have made their festival mark, this potent, slow-burning study of male alienation is an urban, tougher counterpoint to Franco’s debut, Less Modern Times.

Middle-aged, dour Lucho, with sad eyes and finely-chiseled features, is an oil rig driller in the wastes of Patagonia. He shares his caravan with younger Chilean Rojas (Nicolas Saavedra): their dialogs, generally observed from a static camera position, are taciturn to the point of being comically absurd. Both the men and the camera are considerably busier and more involved when they're outside working the drill, in scenes whose massive industrial choreography is precisely and respectfully recorded: the film’s Spanish title means "mouth of the well," which is also the name given to the men who work there.

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Lucho seems to have upturned the standard paradigm by using work as an escape from the rest of his life. A strike is called and is forced to return to the women of his life -- to his wife Celeste (Paula Kohan), furious with him for the debts he’s run up, and their son Damian (Augusto Gomez Barquin); to his mother Elba (Livia Fernan), who tells him that Celeste is pregnant again; and to the prostitute, Rocio (Ana Livingston), the person to whom Lucho seems most closely attached. When you add in that Lucho is also buying drugs from kids on street corners, the portrait of a messy life is complete.

All of this is presented slowly -- sometimes too slowly -- and without explanation, leaving the viewer to infer what’s being shown, if anything, beyond a downbeat portrait of the rather grim life of a boca de pozo. Perhaps the film is about machismo, about a roughneck’s inability to emotionally empathize with the people he has filled his life with; perhaps it’s a critique of capitalism, of the emotional price a person pays by investing so much time and energy on work; perhaps it’s a portrait of a mid-life crisis. It could be all of these, or none, and Roughneck, which is as tight-lipped as its protagonist, maddeningly isn’t telling.

Cedron is superb as the almost burned-out, weary Lucho, although the shots of grizzled features are sometimes so lengthy that it looks as though he’s unsure about what expression to wear next. One scene, featuring the character stumblingly, drunkenly singing a karaoke version of Cacho Castana’s cheesy anthem 'Ha vuelto el matador' ('The Matador is Back') finally brings down the mask and reveals the pathetic side of the character -- a side of him which the script would have done well to countenance more often.

Soundwork is excellent throughout, the eerie whipping winds seeming to evoke the empty expanses both of Patagonia and of Lucho’s unfulfilled inner life. Diego De Garay’s photography happily does not falsely exploit the striking Patagonian landscapes for their own sake, but several strong transitional shots do reveal that there’s more to the film’s visuals than the gritty documentary feel which prevails elsewhere.

Production companies: Pensa&Rocca Cine, Z + F Cine, AJAF Cinema
Cast: Pablo Cedron, Livia Fernan, Paula Kohan, Ana Livingston, Nicolas Saavedra, Augusto Gomez Barquin, Luis Angel Naya
Director: Simon Franco
Screenwriters: Luis Zorraquin, Salvador Roselli, Franco
Producer(s): Daniel Pensa, Luis Zorraquin, Miguel Angel Rocca, Franco
Director of photography: Diego De Garay
Production designer: Betania Rabino
Costume designer: Ana Clara Guarino
Editor: Cristina Carrasco
Composer: Nicolas Sorin
No rating
82 minutes