Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hernán Guerschuny's THE FILM CRITIC is a smart new rom-com that hits close to home

So how are film critics treated in Argentina? If you've ever wondered, THE FILM CRITIC (El Critico), the new movie from first-time Argentine writer/ director Hernán Guerschuny, will fill you in. First of all, the lucky souls shown here get coffee and a light breakfast to go with their film screenings. When Trust Movies first began covering new releases for the now-defunct Greencine, there was at least coffee at certain venues. With budgets continuing to tighten, we now get nada but the movie itself -- and we can't even bring a guest, as in the old days. But no complaining, please. We're fortunate to view films for free, even if most of us no longer get paid for our time and trouble.

The little circle of film critics that we see in Señor Guerschuny's movie (the filmmaker is shown at right) seem a pretty good cross section of those to be seen in any country: interested, insular, a bit pompous and with tastes about as diverse as one might expect from folk who devote their lives to looking at films of all kinds. Most pompous of the little group is our "hero," Victor, a fellow who despises popular romantic comedies, who thinks in French (rather than his native Spanish), and who suddenly, after meeting a particular young woman, finds his life seemingly turning into one of those rom-coms. Yikes.

Yet there is nothing magical nor "special-effecty" going on here. Instead, the filmmaker very cleverly allows us to watch his subject -- played by the very interesting, close-to-the-vest performer, Rafael Spregelburd, above -- fall in love without actually knowing he is doing this, so little inclined to the endeavor has he been throughout the course of his life. This may be, in fact, and probably is, his "first time."

The object of Victor's affection is a young woman, Sofia (Dolores Fonzi, above, left), who appears to have rented an apartment that he himself had hoped to obtain. The more we learn about Sofia the less we actually know, which keeps us, as well as our pompous but somehow loveable hero, rather off-balance.

How the filmmaker manages to make fun of the rom-com conventions -- the race to the airport, running in the rain, sudden slow-motion for those important moments and, god, yes, the fireworks -- while also working these into his own scenario is handled with such subtlety, wit and genuine good humor that he makes us putty in his hands and lens. (One particular scene, featuring crack Argentine actor Leonardo Sbaraglia playing himself, is quite delightful.)

Guerschuny know his film theory, all right, along with an understanding and appreciation of mainstream taste and art film smarts, and he seems to have no special love for cliché. Consequently he juggles all of this so deftly that we're able to enjoy it while appreciating our own occasional (maybe more often than that) need for rom-com convention.

One of his choice ideas is to include in his scenario a young and budding filmmaker (played by a fine Ignacio Rogers), the work of whom Victor's words have recently bludgeoned. This plot strand, along with that of Victor's help concerning his needy niece (Telma Crisanti, above) combine to fine, fulsom effect by the finale. His climax and denouement, in fact, could hardly be better -- upending conventions while still allowing for maybe a little... hope.

If it seems perhaps that Guerschuny has succeeded in having his cake and eating it, too, so smart, witty and special is The Film Critic, that I doubt you'll begrudge this new and most welcome movie-maker a single bite. From Music Box Films -- in Spanish and French with English subtitles and running just 98 minutes -- the work opens Friday, May 15, here in New York City at the Cinema Village and in Los Angeles on May 22 at Laemmle's Music Hall 3.

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