Don Quijotes Against the Money Machines

in 49th Taormina Film Fest

by Maja Volk

In the international world film competion, totally in contrast with the touristic, slow, sunny, lazy atmosphere of the Sicilian town of Taormina, we saw long and devastating shots on dark, gloomy subjects, from feeble attempts to establish new national pride through historical construction, to naivety and alas, boredom…and then it happened. Four Don Quijotes rode straight into the town, got aboard on a train with no final destination and woke us all up. Yes, it is a story that might so easily fall into sentimentalism or caricature, especially if we bear in mind that this is just the second film of a young film maker, Diego Arsuaga, whose first feature film Otario was made back in 1997… But suprisingly, it doesn’t fall into stereotypes. On the contrary.

“El ultimo tren”, is a film I saw at the Valladolid film festival last year, where it got the audience award and won absolutely all the sympathies, but somehow, wasn’t recognised by the FIPRESCI jury, for one sole reason – it was so obvious that the film would have great future, with or without the help of the international critics… Besides, it was a comedy after all…and as it always happens in life, the last train, somehow, didn’t get far on its road to the film festivals…

We met again in Taormina, where it was announced as a world premiere (its appearance in Spain is considered domestic as Spain participated in coproduction of this film). The only film in the world competition that didn’t fear to express humour and dared to balance between melancholy and joy, The Last Train strolled along the beautiful Uruguayan fields, building the actors’ film (the whole ensemble was brilliant, just to mention the main ones, the superb Hector Alteri, Federico Lupi and Pepe Sonano), on a unique elixir of life: humour and sensibility, empathy for the old age, political background and mythical matrix of the past, joined together in 90 minutes of sheer pleasure. Even the villain in this story isn’t built on stereotypes, and every part of that useless and absurd last voyage of the old locomotive number 33, brings us more and more satisfaction, and awakes that forgotten human side in a severe film critic… When we, as mere spectators in the theater, become the invisible voyagers of an old steam engine, risen from the forgotten Westerns, we also become Don Quijotes in a useless crusade against the windmills of the Hollywood mainstream, against the money machines… and though one can not call the ending of this film a happy one, happiness comes to us with a thought that there is still a hope when a Uruguayan film can beat the big budget ones, because, maybe it isn’t all in money, budget, big names, dramaturgy or even direction, but simply in a – motivation. This film was made with heart.