Villegas: Cannes Review

Cannes Villegas Still - H 2012

Cannes Villegas Still - H 2012

Two cousins take to the highway in an Argentinian mood-piece that's largely a middle-of-the-road affair.

Argentine writer-director Gonzalo Tobal's first feature is a music-driven road pic.

Half road-movie, half family get-together, Villegas is an unassuming mood-piece miniature chiefly notable for its eclectic soundtrack that atmospherically combines original compositions and diegetic music. Following a contrasting pair of thirtysomething cousins from Buenos Aires to their grandfather's funeral in the town of General Villegas at the opposite end of the capital's province, this Argentine/Dutch/French production will be of interest mainly for festivals with a particular emphasis on Spanish-language material -- writer/director Gonzalo Tobal showing only lukewarm promise in his first feature.

Esteban Lamothe (star of Santiago Mitre's The Student) and Esteban Bigliardi (from Rodrigo Moreno's A Mysterious World) play characters of the same names - the easy-going, dope-toking latter known as 'Pipa' to distinguish him from his more strait-laced relative. Musician Pipa takes a happy-go-lucky attitude to life and love, striking up an impromptu relationship with Jazmín (Paula Carruega), a waitress they meet on the road. Esteban is engaged to be married and spends much time on his cellphone talking to his fiancée - just one source of slow-burning friction among the cousins which at one point breaks out into physical violence.

The pair are back on speaking terms by the time they reach General Villegas, when time spent with their parents, old friends and old flames allows both to reflect on where they're at in life, where they've been and where they might be headed next. It's all handled in a low-key, unfussy and unhurried manner by Tobal, his cinematographer Lucas Gaynor and his editor Delfina Castagnino -- a key figure in current Argentine art-cinema who also cut The Student, Matías Piñeiro's They All Lie and Lisandro Alonso's Fantasma.

But the key offscreen contributor is composer Nacho Rodríguez, whose sparingly-deployed score effectively complements "found" music cuts. Most notable of these is a goosebump-raising rendition of Pete Seeger's elegiac "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" by Marlene Dietrich, played on the deceased grandfather's phonogram in a dustily lived-in dwelling which is a fine example of closely-observed production design. At such junctures music is established as both the food of love and and the staff of life for Pipa in particular, and it's notable that every key event in the picture is somehow connected with music being either played or listened to.

But when the music stops and the dialogue has to carry the burden of character and narrative development, Villegas is a little too restrained and laid-back to ever properly engage us with the cousins or their volatile, decades-old relationship. Or, indeed, for any of Tobal's underlying concerns or themes to come into proper focus. This nostalgic voyage, then, isn't exactly a road to nowhere - but it's one that audiences can easily swerve without too much cause for regret.     

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Out of Competition - Special Screenings), May 20, 2012.
Production companies: Rei Cine, in association with Tresmilmundos Cine, PBK Cine, NFI Productions, Ciné-Sud Promotion
Cast: Esteban Lamothe, Esteban Bigliardi, Lucia Cavalloti, Mauricio Minetti, Paula Carruega
Director / Screenwriter: Gonzalo Tobal
Producers: Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli, Juan Villegas
Co-producers: Trent, Thierry Lenouvel
Directors of photography: Lucas Gaynor
Production designer: Julieta Dolinsky
Costume designer: Sandra Fink
Music: Nacho Rodríguez Baiguera
Editor: Delfina Castagnino
Sales Agent: Urban Distribution International, Paris
No rating, 99 minutes.