July 31, 2014
Coming of age story gone terribly awry
For the Herald
The ‘careful what you wish for’ philosophy gets poorly managed twist in debut filmPoints: 3
Sebastián (Jerónimo Escoriaza) is a 10 year-old boy who’s just moved with his parents to a neighbourhood to the suburbs of the city of Mendoza. On the very first day of school, he befriends two of his classmates: Guzmán (Tomás Exequiel Araya), a chubby boy with a love of karate, and Email (Emilio Lacerna) a dark-skinned boy who has lived with his despicable grandmother since his parents abandoned him when he was born, some 11 years ago. After introducing themselves, the three kids start talking while everybody else sings the national anthem. Jokingly (or not) they say that all teachers could die at that exact moment and nothing at all would change in their lives. Why would they say that out of the blue it’s hard to know. It feels more like a precarious screenplay gimmick than anything else.
Anyway, as expected, the music teacher drops dead right on the spot, with no warning whatsoever. So the kids feel guilty, believing they caused her death. However, that doesn’t prevent them from spending the following days — no school because of mourning — playing, talking and walking through the vineyards and dusty roads of Mendoza — in a pretty good mood, that is.
Argentine filmmaker Matías Rojo’s debut film Algunos días sin música is first and foremost a coming of age story of three kids with three different stories, each of them facing unexpected challenges and hardships as they go about their everyday lives. You could say it’s also a portrait of provincial life. And, of course, it’s about friendship at a time when the world seems against you — here the grownups at large mistreat the kids and seem unable to understand what being a pre-teen means.
Moreover, it’s a film made with the best intentions, there’s no doubt about that. But if the necessary expertise to make a film is missing, then best intentions won’t get you anywhere at all. Regrettably, Algunos días sin música is a case in point.
Despite the boys’ efforts, their performances range from poor to mediocre — and the same goes for the rest of the cast. They even have a hard time saying their lines, let alone sounding natural or convincing. Not that the very, very elementary screenplay is of much help either. Absolutely all the characters and conflicts broadly sketched here are so one dimensional and stereotyped that they become risible in a matter of seconds. If this were a parody — which it is not — then it would all make sense — which it doesn’t. Consider that Algunos días sin música aims to be a naturalistic feature portraying life in a somewhat realistic manner. So it’s hard to figure out why there are so many clichés thrown left and right.
The third huge flaw — to put it mildly — is the dialogue. Sometimes it wants to be witty and smart and so it fences with words, but the result is pitiful. The thing is that if you fence with words you have to be somewhat surprising or creative, but here as soon as one line is delivered you instantly know what lines will follow. It just so happens that you’ve heard this kind of dialogue endless times before. So if there’s no imagination or verisimilitude in how any of these characters speaks, how can they come across as real people?
When it comes to the camerawork and overall photography, the panorama is not that bad. Every now and then there are some shots with a certain degree of a poetic atmosphere, and some much-welcomed appeal. At times, you get the feel some qualities of provincial life, especially when it comes to large shots depicting the environment in all its dimensions. And that’s as far as it goes.
It’s not the story itself that makes Algunos días sin música such an easily forgettable film — it’s how that story is told and shot. Just think that many simple stories often give way to superb films: it’s all in the making.
Algunos días sin música. Limited release: Bama Cine Arte, Gaumont. Directed and written by Matías Rojo. Wtih Jerónimo Escoriaza, Emilio Lacerna, Tomás Exequiel Araya, and Ana María Giunta. Cinematography by Máximo Becci. Editing by Andrés Tambornino. Produced by Natacha Rebora, Pablo José Meza, Sofía Toro Pollicino. Running time: 78 min.