Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 27, 2005 6:33 pm 
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Little events in Patagonia: long on atmosphere, short on energy

18 April 2005

"Not exactly the most earth-shattering entry from the Argentinean new wave," the Voice's David Ng politely commented when the film debuted recently in New York, three years after release, also noting its "abundant wisdom and patient humanism." True: humanism and patience do go together, and this film is notable for its attentive but unsentimental focus. But since the pace is truly glacial and the conclusions are flat you may want to avoid Intimate Stories -- unless the mere thought of Patagonia raises your blood pressure. You do get by some kind of osmosis a sense of what it's like to be in this remote part of the settled world, with its bare landscapes and long stretches of nothingness reaching up to the sky along a flat horizon. God was in a minimalist period when He created Patagonia.

The distributors sexed up Argentinian Carlos Sorin's modest title "Minimal Stories" by calling them "Intimate," but they're really tiny and evoke film's affinity for the short story. Not a lot really happens here, though we're made to appreciate that in the wastes of Patagonia where the events transpire a little bit goes a long way.

The people in Intimate Stories, only one of whom is a professional actor, seem wonderfully authentic and so do the sometimes seedy, sometimes gemütlich local backgrounds. These include pastry shops, restaurants, a remote compound -- if in Patagonia the word "remote" isn't already redundant -- where men eat drink and play guitars, and the tackiest TV game show you've ever seen (in such a studiously neutral movie the latter sequence seems a tad overdrawn).

There are three threads (à la Amores Perros) involving three people on separate treks from the town of Fitz Roy to the town of San Julián some 200 miles away: an old gent called Justo (Antonio Benedicti) goes hitchhiking to retrieve his lost dog, a young mother (María, Javiera Bravo), has won a sweepstake and must be there to appear on a quiz show where she wins something she can't use, and a lonely traveling salesman (Roberto, Javier Lombardo, the pro) drives there delivering a cake to a lady customer whose son or daughter is having a birthday. I hope it's not revealing too much to tell you that when Roberto realizes the child's name, Rene, could be either a girl's or a boy's he has to stop midway to have the cake done over in more gender-neutral style. The luckiest chap is the oldster, who does come home with his pet. And we get to find out why the dog may have run off in the first place. We also learn the salesman's really rather shy and the housewife is, well, perhaps not too smart. There is sadness here, but it is viewed unsentimentally.

The filmmaker's previous work made thirteen years ago, Eversmile, New Jersey, starred Daniel Day-Lewis as an itinerant dentist, also in Patagonia, and is said to have vanished almost as soon as it appeared.


(Seen at Cinema Village, New York City, March 24, 2005.)

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