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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Controversial movie wins Cine del Mar Fest

Actor Pablo Pinto at the Chicago Latino Film Festival last year.
By Julio Nakamurakare
Herald Staff
De martes a martes poses hard-to-solve ethical dilemma

The Argentine movie De martes a martes, directed by Gustavo Triviño, yesterday claimed the Audience Award at the sixth edition of the Festival Cine del Mar — Un cine del Mercosur, held in the Uruguayan coastal resort of Punta del Este.

After making a successful round of the international film festivals, De martes a martes (winner of Biarritz’s Best Film Prize) beat out 30 entries from Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Venezuela and Uruguay to become the audience favourite in Punta del Este.

Best Documentary went to the Uruguayan-Mexican production Volver, Gonzalo Mier’s Recargable claimed Best Uruguayan Short, and Gonzalo Ansa’s Rolo won Best International Short.

Argentine actresses Martha Bianchi and Zulma Faiad received special distinctions for their work upholding women’s rights and fighting gender violence.

Posing a double binding dilemma — or a no-win question — De martes a martes concentrates on a textile worker’s monotonous life with an obsession for never missing a workout session at a neighbourhood gym where he finds an outlet for his frustrations and miserable existence.

This is just the background against which De martes a martes is set, but the action starts with an unexpected event that confronts the protagonist with a make-or-break problem.

The way De martes a martes starts, you’d be easily misled into thinking this is no more (and no less) than a little-guy story exploiting the paradoxical contradiction between the portentous size and the painful shyness and inarticulateness of Juan (Pablo Pinto), a worker subjected to every imaginable kind of humiliation from superiors and peers.

An oversized bodybuilder who could easily knock down all adversaries with the tip of his little finger, Juan takes verbal abuse in silence, as though it were a given that a working-class man should abstain from reciprocation. But all his bosses and deviantly cruel coworkers get from Juan is an inscrutable face — no spoken words, just an impenetrable gaze into the void.

Juan is also a part-time nightclub bouncer who secretly dreams of quitting his day job and the night shift duties that help him complement his meagre income. Juan, his wife Mariela and their young son live from pay cheque to pay cheque, seemingly accepting, without any hint of rancour, that life is just a succession of day-to-day obligations and, sometimes, minor ignominies.

Juan’s routine, other than toiling long hours as a textile worker and occasional bouncer with a bodybuilding fixation, includes a daily stopover at a candy store where he gets his daily dose of energy bars. Store clerk Valeria (Malena Sánchez) has a half-concealed crush on Juan, the gigantic man so unbelievably shy that he won’t even look her in the eye, not even return her expectant greeting. Valeria is not flirting, she’s just anxious to see an outpouring of tenderness from this immutable man. But instead of returning Valeria’s smiles and softly spoken words, all Juan does is look down, buy some candy or chocolate bar for his son, and march silently back to work or to hit the gym.

But the trigger in De martes a martes is not a predictable romantic liaison with the candy store girl, or a clichéd “reversal of torture” often seen in victim-victimizer chain reaction stories. Or maybe this is the case, but the people on the receiving-end are not Juan’s cruel yet pitiable victimizers.

When Juan unexpectedly becomes the sole witness of a heinous act of violence perpetrated by businessman Alfredo Westoizen (Alejandro Awada) against Valeria, De martes a martes moves in unforeseeable directions, as does Juan when confronted with the possibility of making a choice.

Fernández Triviño’s script, a tight and seamless piece of work, manages a perplexing achievement — it creates immediate empathy with the oppressed worker and maintains the story’s credibility and pulsating suspense in spite of the baffling turn of events.

Juan, whose conduct and morality seem predictable to the point of triteness from the first minute, becomes an intriguing character who commands respect for his sudden bursts of audacious reactions. His bold moves, however, remain unclear until the startling finale, which marks not the end of an enigma but signals, instead, the beginning of a debate on the validity and morality of Juan’s motivations and schemes, his modus operandi, the unsettling way in which he, for the first time in his underdog’s life, turns against evildoers while at the same time keeping a share of the (ill-gotten?) material benefits for himself.

Expertly choreographed and executed, De martes a martes is a striking, carefully composed, ensnaring mishmash of narrative threads that point in one direction and suddenly shift gears to fork out into oddly dissimilar, beguiling byways.

Largely on the strength of a winning performance by actor Pablo Pinto as the impenetrably enigmatic bodybuilder / factory worker / bouncer, De martes a martes strikes emotional chords and awakens moral issues while keeping viewers engulfed in the action, shocked by the tactic and the moral decisions made. Even the end credits’ factual epigram becomes an addition that, depending on your stance, renders De martes a martes a bona fide testimony against violence and injustice or, on the contrary, a viciously self-justifying statement for the protagonist’s moral choices.

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