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October 25, 2014
Thursday, April 24, 2014

Tango, shrinks and nutcases don’t mix well on screen

Gastón Pauls and Héctor Alterio in a scene from Fermín.
By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
Stereotypes can be lethal — especially when taken seriously. Otherwise, when it comes to a parody or a situation comedy, they do pay off quite nicely. They are part of the game, and rightfully so. But when a naturalistic drama that calls for fully fleshed out characters resorts to stereotypes, the result is frankly off-putting.

Add an unnecessarily convoluted storyline with unnecessary touches of picturesque fare (tangos and milongas, more precisely), absolutely unsuccessful performances from an entire cast, big meanings voiced over by cardboard figures, and a rather ludicrous premise to begin with. What you get out of such deadly mix is Argentine directors Hernán Findling y Oliver Kolker’s opera prima Fermín, la película, a movie that’s hard to forget.

It all begins when Dr. Ezequiel Kaufman (Gastón Pauls), a good and humanitarian shrink who starts working at a Public Psychiatric Hospital, meets a most peculiar patient, Fermín Turdera (Héctor Alterio), an old man who does not connect with anybody at all. Speech wise, all he can do is utter lyrics of tango and milongas tunes — and you sure can’t carry a conversation like that.

His only relative is his caring granddaughter Eva Turdera (Antonella Costa), an attractive tango and milongas dance teacher with a pervasive bad mood and a distressing love affair with his dance companion. She wants grandpa to get better, but thinks it’ll never happen since he’s been committed for ten years with no improvement whatsoever. So doctors have given up on him. That is, of course, until Dr. Kaufman arrives.

Kaufman becomes close to Fermín (thanks to two or three empathic conversations, but mostly because the script says so), and will gradually get to the roots of his trauma. Past events and episodes in the 1940’s and onwards (which you see in didactic flashbacks) speak of an ill fated romance and betraying your best friend, of the underworld of tango (rendered in very, very trite manner), of a disappeared son during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship (a gratuitous inclusion just to make the drama all the more “gripping”) and, among many other things, of the love a father never gave to his son. Incidentally, there’s also an absent father in Kaufman’s life, which triggers his devotion to cure Fermín, who in the end becomes a thankful father to the good doctor and thus relieves his aching hear too.

I’m tempted to say that Fermín, la película’s main problem is that it is a drama and not a melodrama, the only genre that could have supported such plot. And yet that’s not entirely so. Because the huge flaws in acting (everybody either over acts or is stiff as a rock, and I mean every single actor), the way sluggish pace of the storytelling, the cartoonish and unrealistic depiction of the mental hospital (patients are the kind of funny, likable, or violent nuts you only see in bad movies), and the one dimensional characters are indeed enormous problems that no genre could have solved. There’s no way to make a decent film out of a horrendous screenplay and equally horrendous direction.

Given this set of circumstances, a constant, overall lack of verisimilitude is completely assured. Needless to say, there’s no fun, no insights, no real feelings to be found here.

Production notes

Fermín, la película (Argentina, 2013). Directed by Hernán Findling and Oliver Kolker. Written by Oliver Kolker. With: Héctor Alterio, Gastón Pauls, Luciano Cáceres, Emilio Disi, Luis Ziembrowski, Antonella Costa, Dalma Maradona, Carlos Copelo, Silvina Valz, and Rodrigo Pedreira. Cinematography: Claudio Beiza. Musical score: Lisandro Adrover. Art direction: Sandra Iurcovich. Produced by Findling films / Oliver Kolker. Running time: 100 minutes.

@PablSuarez

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