Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2011 6:48 pm 
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Disquieting whimsy from Buenos Aires

Chomski has made an elegantly droll little piece of cinematic surrealism set in Forties Buenos Aires and based on a 1973 story by well-known Argentinian writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, whom the filmmaker knew, but who died a decade before the film was completed. Lucio (Luis Machín) is a watchmaker who works out of the boyhood home he inherited from his parents when they died in an accident. He lives with an elderly woman servant, Ceferina (Norma Argentina) and his wife Diana (Esther Goris), whom he dearly loves but who has become strange. She's obsessed with dogs and overly attached to a certain Dr. Standle (Enrique Piñeyro) and spends an inordinate amount of time at his canine clinic trying to decide upon a pet. Lucio consents to Diana's being sent to a so-called "Phrenopathic Institute" for treatment, under the care of the mysterious Prof. Dr. Reger Samaniego (Carlos Belloso), whose large office is a symphony of light and shadow. Art direction does not take a second place in this methodical, attractive film.

He is disturbed when they won't let him visit her, and then when she's released, equally disturbed by her changed personality: she dances, performs fellatio, goes for walks with him, and whistles. When he goes to complain at the clinic that his wife is no longer the same person, the director says he's changed too, and abruptly inducts Lucio as a patient. "Escape if you can," says a friendly nurse. Everyone here and at the dog clinic is dressed in immaculate starched white uniforms. Black Forties cars tool about quietly, and the interiors and architecture of the clinic are deliciously dated: this is a film for the eye to savor. It's oddities aren't meant to alarm so much as to bemuse. As Lucio, Luis Machín, who is in nearly every frame, has a soothing conventionality, even though he's a reserved, Kafkaesque nobody.

Eventually things become very wacky. Dr. Samaniego's Phrenopathology seems to involve moving souls from one body to another, and some human personalities wind up in the bodies of dogs. Details are lacking, and one comes back to the fact that this is a short story, and not one that the filmmaker has fleshed out as fully as appears at the outset. The actors provide a sense of texture where there is not so much, and the impressive art direction fills in the rest. Elements in the work of Adolfo Bioy Casares are the impossibility of amorous relationships, the insertion of a fantasy world into reality, philosophical speculation and the distancing effect of humor. They all come together here, though ultimately they make Asleep in the Sun thought-provoking, but not emotionally satisfying. This is Kafka with a whimsical touch. The disquiet is slow in coming but builds in a rush in the final scene, a wake where dogs and people have traded personalities.

Asleep in the Sun/Dormir al sol debuted in Argentina in 2010, and was shown at the Jakarta festival in November of 2010. Screened and reviewed at the San Francisco International Film Festival, April 21-May 5, 2011.

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