December 13, 2013
The bodybuilding bouncer who went astray
If you were looking for a moral contradiction for which there is no easy answer, here’s Gustavo Fernández Triviño’s De martes a martes, which has made the rounds of important festivals and premières tomorrow in BA.
The way Triviño’s feature film début De martes a martes starts, you’d be easily misled into thinking this is no more (and no less) than a little-guyism story exploiting the paradoxical opposition between the portentous size of the film lead, Juan (Pablo Pinto), and his painful shyness and inarticulateness. Juan is a submissive textile worker subjected to every imaginable kind of humiliation from superiors and peers, and it all seems to indicate that this is the way things will go for ever.
An oversized bodybuilder who could easily knock down all adversaries with the tip of his little finger, Juan takes verbal abuse in silence, day after day, as though it were a given that a working-class man should abstain from reciprocation. But all his bosses and deviantly cruel co-workers get from Juan is an inscrutable face, no spoken words, an impenetrable gaze into the void.
At this early point in the story, De martes a martes inevitably brings to mind Adrián Biniez’s movie Gigante (2009), in which a powerfully-built night watchman develops an addiction to peeping into the life of a cleaning staffer. But while Gigante was a sweet, moving character study into the tedious life of a loner, 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.
Succintly put, De martes a martes is the story of an oppressed factory worker and 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 paycheque to paycheque, 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, and fulfilling his fixation with bodybuilding, 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, nor 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.
Triggering the action in De martes a martes, however, 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 (the obligation?) of making a choice.
Fernández Triviño’s script, a tight and seamless piece of work, manages a perplexing achievement: creating immediate empathy with the oppressed worker and maintaining 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 minute one, 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.
Largely on the strength of a winning performance by actor Pablo Pinto as the impenetrably enigmatic bodybuilder/factory worker/part-time bouncer, De martes a martes strikes emotional chords and awakens moral issues while keeping viewers engulfed in the action, shocked by the tactical and 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 gender violence and injustice at large or, on the contrary, a vicious, self-justifying statement on the protagonist’s moral choices.
De martes a martes (From Tuesday to Tuesday). Argentina, 2012. Written and directed by: Gustavo Fernández Triviño. Cinematography: Julián Apezteguia. Editing: Pablo Faro. Music: Nicolás Mayer. With: Pablo Pinto, Alejandro Awada, Malena Sánchez, Daniel Valenzuela, Roly Serrano, Jorge Sesan. Produced by: Carrousel Films. Running time: 98 minutes.