Thursday, May 5, 2011

Peruvian brothers Daniel & Diego Vega's glowing OCTUBRE gets a theatrical release

Effecting a major change in an on-screen character -- the deep and lasting kind that resists easy melodrama -- is no simple task. That's probably why, of all the things we moviegoers expect and receive, this is one of those with which we're least often gifted. So all hail a pair of filmmakers from Peru, brothers who, until now, had but a single short film to their credit: Daniel Vega Vidal and Diego Vega Vidal. Their collaborative effort titled OCTUBRE offers up this change in the form of its leading character, a money lender named Clemente who is so uptight and self-shielded from feeling that, rather than having any positive identity of his own, he is known by all as "the pawnbroker's son."

Thanks to brothers Daniel (at left) and Diego (below, right) the strange, circumscribed world of this man is opened up to us, as, only minutes into the movie, Clemente -- whom you might call a less-evil loan shark -- receives an unexpected gift that sets his life slowly but obstinately onto a different course. He resists the change mightily, and indeed it comes so grudgingly and haltingly that uninterested viewers might even miss it.
But it's there all the same, and -- via everything from performances to set design, camera-work, dialog and all the rest that goes into good filmmaking -- we perceive it slowly taking shape. And when, by the movie's end, we understand what has happened, our response is not the teary-eyed, feel-good stuff that most movie provide. No, the brothers end rather in the middle of things so that we're taken a bit aback. Only upon reflection do we realize what we've seen and experienced.

Now, I like a good cry as much as the next moviegoer, but I must say that I'm even more impressed with what the Vega bros have done. They capture us with stillness and vision, with quiet symbo-lism that won't shout. Instead -- like the piece of large counterfeit currency our "hero" has received and keeps trying to pass off to the next sucker -- it takes on meaning and weight in utterly believable fashion.

The brothers have assembled a crack cast to deliver their little tale, and each performer shines. In the lead role of Clemente, Bruno Odar (above) lets a gruff exterior mask, certainly no heart of gold, but the soul of a man who has grown up by keeping himself away from kindness and feeling. His change is so incremental and unfelt by him that he and we realize it at approximately the same time.

The agents of his change are several. One, quite small, one will be obvious within the films' first few minutes. Two others in particular stand out: Sofia, who becomes a kind of caretaker of Clemente's life (played by the very interesting actress Gabriela Velásquez, above) and Don Fico (Carlos Gassols, below) an old man who has his own problems but who connects with Clemente is ways both known and not-so.

The brothers' cinematographer Fergan Chávez-Ferrer does a yeoman job of shooting beautiful yet simple interiors, cropped subtly and interestingly, and the lighting is rich and lovely with browns and yellows, warm and uninviting at the same time, as seems appropriate for Clemente. Character is shown through performance but also via the set. Note below the chair on which the money-lender sits and the lower stool for his clients. Clemente is not a large man, but there will be no mistaking who is in charge.

The film takes place during Peru's religious spring celebration. (October? Remember: We're in the Southern Hemisphere.) Even so there seems as much paganism as Christianity going on. You'll note, with some surprise and wonder, the "spell" the caretaker hopes to put on her employer, and the particular mode with which she goes about preparing it. Yikes -- tasty! Does this work? Maybe. But then everything that everyone does seem finally, quietly to work. Just as does this remarkable little movie.

Octubre, another fine title from the newly revived New Yorker Films (who last year gave us My Dog Tulip), opens this Friday, May 6, in New York at the Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema -- followed by a welcome national release.

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