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September 3, 2014
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For a fistful of strands: the hair loss solution

Nicolás Vázquez (Tuti, right) and Daniel Ferreyra (Héctor) in a scene from Montalbano’s Un puñado de pelos.
By Julio Nakamurakare
Herald Staff
New comedy is conventional, even trite, but fun all the same

A case of alopecia (a severe condition where the person affected sees his personal and social life impaired) is what propels the action forward in Néstor Montalbano’s comedy Por un puñado de pelos (literally, For a Fistful of Strands of Hair, parodying Sergio Leone’s western). The young man thus affected is Tuti Turman (Nicolás Vázquez), a successful exec at his father’s company. That is, successful when it comes to money philandering, but miserably pitiable when it comes to dating or getting a one-night stand.

Tuti has it all: a well-paying job, good looks (save for his receding hairline), a wonderful sports car, a well-fitted apartment in a posh building, a playroom with every imaginable gadget, and no one to enjoy them with. The way screenwriter Damián Dreizik and director Néstor Montalbano have chosen to kickstart the action in Por un puñado de pelos is far from original. Running his finger on the contact list on his smartphone, Tuti is unable to clinch a date. “Sushi, and a good night in,” as he tells every gamine and potential candidate for company. In predictable fashion, all of them have either married since they last heard from each other, or they simply choose to hang up on him. Back home it is then, driving his fabulous two-seater, ordering sushi and having a good fix of onanistic pleasure with his playstation.

BALD EAGLE. Whoever said that baldness may be equated with hormone-driven outbursts of masculinity was lying, and maybe he was going bald or had a receding hairline himself. In the real world, hair loss poses no health threat and may be regarded as just a vanity problem hurting the ego of middle-aged men. Well, in the real world this has started to change as hair loss seems to start at an earlier age now. Claiming scientific proof, pop lore experts assure that the phenomenon is mainly linked to nutrition, and right they may be, for the younger the hair loss victim the heavier he (it’s always a he) may have gorged on junk food in his younger years.

Regardless of causes, a man suffering from early alopecia is usually associated with someone with low self-esteem and an inferiority complex. It’s a cause-consequence pattern, of course, it’s not that a weak personality leads to hair loss. Rather, it’s the lack of an abundant mane of hair that often causes an individual to experience loss of self confidence and, in extreme cases, the urge to disguise unwanted loss as voluntary decision to shave their heads and proudly exhibit their new looks. Other men in the early or middle stages of alopecia (mainly the type that starts at the top of your head and obscenely works its way downwards) turn to miracle drugs, follicle massage, drugs, or hair implants, which do not look that bad, actually.

EGO MASSAGE. Néstor Montalbano’s Por un puñado de pelos fits in the film category of “man trying to avert humiliation succeeds in beating the odds.” The gods have inflicted an irreparable loss on Tuti, the movie’s antihero, but an unexpected, long-weekend road journey with Héctor (Daniel Ferreyra), the building’s janitor, transforms Tuti into an even more successful entrepreneur with a wavy strand of abundant, shiny hair.

The plot twist in Por un puñado de pelos is conventional: Héctor, a man with indigenous roots, must go home for his grandma’s 105th birthday. When a bus drivers’ strike is announced at the last moment, Héctor sinks into despair. Having nothing else to do over the long weekend, Tuti offers to take Héctor on a thousand-kilometre car ride to a mountainous small town in the western province of San Luis. When Héctor distractedly reveals a centuries-old secret (a fountain whose pristine waters produce miraculous hair loss recovery and prevention), Tuti tries it himself. With a new, wavy, beautiful mane of hair on his head, Tuti attempts to set up a business worth millions — against the locals’ will and with the approval of mayor Nemesio (Carlos Alberto Valderrama) after promises of a substantial kickback.

Although the subject of innocent, well-meaning townsfolk vs greedy out-of-towners has been broached countless times before, Por un puñado de pelos succeeds on one count, at least: it offers a smooth ride in spite of its unoriginal content. In addition, the film’s predictable plotline seldom eats up your nerves. It may well be the case that, after a long string of duds (shorts, features and documentaries), San Luis Cine (now in partnership with Colombia) has finally managed to pull off a decent movie.

Néstor Montalbano may not have many directorial credits, but he has excelled on television (Cha Cha Cha, Todo por dos pesos) and in the movies (Cómplices, Soy tu aventura). In Por un puñado de pelos, minor flaws and all, Montalbano shows his mettle in combat: the movie plot is a satirical showdown which filmgoers could easily guffaw at, but fact is, the movie engages your attention. Expect no fireworks, but the ensemble cast turn in uniformly good performances: Uruguayan singer-actor Rubén Rada as the staunch opponent of the new business; Norma Argentina as Braulia, his mollifying wife; Natalia Sánchez as María Belén, their beautiful teen daughter and Tuti’s love interest as soon as he sets eyes on her; and Beatriz Fernández, who does a memorable turn as the “Abuela Ñaca,” whose almost unintelligible words bespeak the wisdom begotten through the years.

Actor Nicolás Vázquez, a former teen heartthrob on local TV, steals the show with the right amount of tenderness and his “you can’t always win” attitude.

Production notes

Por un puñado de pelos. Argentina / Colombia , 2013. Written by: Damián Dreizik. Directed by: Néstor Montalbano. With: Nicolás Vázquez, Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama, Rubén Rada, Norma Argentina, Daniel Ferreyra, Natalia Sánchez Cortez, Ivo Cutzarida, Andrés Rey, Beatriz Fernandez, Jaime Ramírez Navarro, Nicolás Paez. Distributed by: Aura Films. NR. Running time: 96 minutes.

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