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August 23, 2014
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Plotless urban tale goes nowhere in Lumpen

A scene from Lumpen, Luis Ziembrowski’s directorial debut.
By Pablo Suarez

Luis Ziembrowski’s directorial debut is a flawed portrayal of marginal Buenos Aires

Bruno (Luis Ziembrowski) has a teenage son, Damián (Alan Daicz), and a girlfriend, Ruth (Analía Couceyro), and they live in a working class, kind of shabby, neighbourhood. He used to know better days, but he’s been down and out on his luck for quite some time now — only God knows why and how his life changed so much. In front of his house, there’s an abandoned factory — which I guess symbolizes the ruins of a past economic bonanza.

That’s where Cartucho (Diego Velázquez), a squatter worker, lives. He represents the current and impoverished state of things. Bruno befriends Cartucho, but only because he needs someone to take care of a used car he’s just bought. He even tips Cartucho for the task. By the way, most of the bigot, fascist neighbours want to kick Cartucho out of the neighbourhood. And they harass everybody, just for the sake of it.

But Claudia (María Inés Aldaburu), a Marxist activist — or something of the sort — who’s in a wheelchair and records slices of everyday life with a video camera, is on Bruno’s and Cartucho’s side. She also tapes herself talking about Sergei Eisenstein’s October — why she does it beats me. Incidentally, Damián begins to spend too much time with Cartucho, just the two of them. Which is not a good thing in this movie, for anything can come out of that. There’s also the police, who come to the neighbourhood to arrest Cartucho. And there’s much, mucho more, but it’s quite hard to put all the pieces together.

Not because Lumpen, the debut film as a director of Argentine actor Luis Ziembrowski, is an intricate and dazzling puzzle, but because of a more elementary reason: the story is so disjointed, so arbitrary and rambling that in order to sketch a synopsis, you have to wait until the very end of the film, recall what you’ve seen, and even see it again — which is definitely not a pleasant experience.

This confusion is clearly involuntary; the idea here was likely to accumulate a series of situations shot in autonomous sequences within the aesthetics of gritty realism (which is somewhat well achieved, thanks to an ambiance of pervasive gloom), and then have them express the many facets — the pain, the oppressiveness, and the isolation — of this bleak universe. Too bad it doesn’t work at all. Yet, it’s only fair to point out that the performances of Couceyro and Ziembrowski do have some remarkable moments. They do make a difference amid such an ill fated screenplay.

There’s an attempt to build a narrative, but then there are no dramatic connections between the scenes. Moreover, viewers are never told of certain important facts, as though there was some mystery lurking around the corner. Then the facts are revealed and they amount to almost nothing in dramatic terms. Or by the time they are revealed, you just don’t care about the whole thing anymore. Let alone the supporting characters that have no personality, no distinctive traits. Or the Marxist activist — or whatever she is — who seems to come out of a David Lynch movie. Better said, of a bad copy of a David Lynch movie.

What’s worse is how the film aims to be a metaphor, or an allegory, or just a mediation, of a generalized state of social and economic turmoil in the Argentina post crisis of 2001. Lofty ambitions for a film that fails at the most basic level: telling a story, be it in a linear or fragmented manner.

Production notes

Lumpen (Argentina, 2013). Directed by Luis Ziembrowski. Written by Luis Ziembrowski and Iosi Havilio. With Sergio Boris, Diego Velázquez, Alan Daisc, Daniel Valenzuela, Analía Couceyro, María Inés Aldaburu, Gabo Correa, Rubén Noceda, Tamara Garzón, and Oscar Alegre. Cinematography by Segundo Cerrato. Sound design by Sebastián González, Lucía Iglesias, Marcos Zoppi. Music by Cristian Derbaradegián. Produced by Luis Ziembrowski. Running time: 85 minutes.

@pablsuarez
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