Almost an Autobiographical Story

in 52nd San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Oscar Peyrou

The Argentinian director Adolfo Aristarain, who in 1992 won the Concha de Oro at the San Sebastian International Film Festival with Un lugar en el mundo, A Place in the World, returned to the official section of its 52nd edition with Roma, a long story with many autobiographical elements.

Roma tells the life of a retired writer, starred by José Sacristán, who remembers his lifetime in front of an assistant sent by his publishing company in order to help him with the transcription of his last book. Juan Diego Botto performs the assistant, who also personifies the writer in his youth. The old writer’s vital experiences are those of an Argentine who lives in Spain since more than 30 years ago and that remembers in the text that he is writing his childhood and adolescence in his native country. These can be confused with Aristarain’s own ideals, experiences and his way of understanding life those years.

The protagonist’s childhood years, that take place in the decade of 1940 and in a Buenos Aires that was still prosperous, is the best achieved part of the film, with an outstanding economy of means. The family’s ordinary problems, the child’s education and his parents’ friends conform a dynamic unity that with just a few sequences allows the audience to know the living of the Argentinian middle-class after the Second World War. This happy period ends abruptly with the father’s death.

The decade of 1960 finds the main character as an adolescent, submerged in the kind of problems and lack of control typical of that age. His personality’s intimate aspect keeps being built with the material facts of the turbulent social reality of the country, shaken by military movements against the current legality and the political response of students and workers. The youngster lives the bohemian of the moment while he strengths the bonds that unite him to his mother, whose basic and only goal is his son’s welfare. In this context, Aristarain chooses a very sentimental and didactic way of narrating the story. This is something that favours emotions to come easily out and, therefore, to be superficial, attempting against the most profound centre of the story that he had been successfully developing in the first part of the film. The film adopts a slow rhythm and is stretched unnecessarily, it lasts more than 2 hours and a half, with subplots that could have been insinuated without so many details.

Regarding interpretation, Sacristán, as usual, accomplishes satisfactorily with his duty, while Juan Diego Botto risks more but sometimes even performs in an excellent way his double character. Susú Pecoraro’s work deserves a different paragraph, as her interpretation for the protagonist’s mother achieves some prodigies of naturalness and restraint.

Aristarain was a voracious reader and a complete cinephile since he was a child. He was a self-taught learner. He tried to be a storyteller during his teenage years and he made a programme at Radio Nacional de Buenos Aires by reading Dylan Thomas’ pieces, translated of his own. He moved to Brazil, in where he was an editor and a sound technician in Rio de Janeiro. When the decade of 1960 started, he began to work as a director assistant on a regular and professional basis. He settles in Madrid in 1967 and goes back to Buenos Aires in 1974. He becomes the assistant for directors such as Mario Camus, Sergio Leone, Vicente Aranda, Daniel Tinayre and Sergio Renán. He managed to carry out his first feature film in 1978, La parte del león, The Lion’s Share. From that time until present he has been a scriptwriter, director and producer working between Argentina and Spain. The most remarkable films that he has directed are Tiempo de revancha, Time for Revenge (1981); Últimos días de la víctima, Last Days of the Victim (1982); Un lugar en el mundo, A Place in the World (1992); Martín Hache (1996) and Lugares Comunes, Common Places (2002).

Óscar Peyrou