February 18, 2009

La Leon


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½ (adding half a star for the cinematography)

When you are suddenly confronted with some gorgeous, widescreen, black-and-white cinematography in a new movie -- as in Santiago Otheguy's La Leon -- do you experience, as I do, something like "the shock of the old"? This happens as you're simultaneously whisked back in time to those pre-color films of the 30s, 40s and 50s and are now suddenly re-experiencing them via all the current technology available to today's cinematographers. It can be a marvelous thing, even if, and this is unfortunately true to some extent of La León, you're watching an example of the "less is less" school of moviemaking.

The story, such as it is, tracks a man approaching middle-age who lives on a wild, overgrown, and under-populated island off the coast of Argentina where he leads a rather solitary life: fishing, visiting a friend, playing "futbol," bookbinding (he earns a meager living from this, as well as from harvesting reeds, the island's "crop" of choice), thinking, and occasionally having sex with a stranger who might cruise by in an upscale boats. While he's gay, neither he nor most of the island's inhabitants make much of this. But one who does is the captain of a local ferry, who teases and insults the man, along with some of the missionaries he does not like who have come to camp on the island and proselytize. One thing leads to another, and…

This, basically, is it. But because the leading actors, Jorge Roman as the gay and Daniel Valenzuela as the ferry captain, are both quite watchable (Roman is a quiet "looker," while Valenzuela offers portly power), you should have little trouble getting through this 80-minute movie and adapting to the slow-paced life of the island. Other directors would probably have taken material like this into more obvious and melodramatic realms, but Otheguy, whose first full-length film this is, clearly knows what he wants and achieves it. And that cinematography (by Paula Grandio) is often breathtaking, whether you're looking at the river, the overgrown island, the picturesquely broken-down living quarters -- or Señor Roman in the nude.

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Posted by cphillips at February 18, 2009 10:36 AM
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