Life Density

in 58th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Dana Duma

It seems film critics are never bored by realism, especially when it comes from Latin American cinema. At least, that is, if we were judging by the FIPRESCI Award in the 58th edition of the Valladolid International Film Festival, as presented to Reconstruction (La reconstrucción), an Argentinean minimalist drama signed by Juan Taratuto.

Well known for his romantic comedies about neurotic people living in crowded cities (It’s not You, It’s me, 2004; Who Says it’s Easy, 2007; and A Boyfriend for My Wife, 2008), Taratuto changes the tone to investigate more deeply the difficult relationships between people in distress. He moves his characters from Buenos Aires to a remote place in Patagonia. The entire film revolves around Eduardo, an efficient worker in the oil industry with no personal life. A man in his fifties, extremely lonely, silent, grumpy and enigmatic, he leaves his workaholic routine when asked by his friend Mario to come to Ushuaia and watch over his business while he is hospitalized. Although trying to help, Eduardo remains isolated within Mario’s family. It’s just after the sudden death of his friend that he abandons his shield of indifference and becomes the protector of Mario’s fragile wife and two teenage daughters.

As the metaphor of the title suggests, the movie follows the interior reconstruction process of a man who finds himself forced to leave behind his own sorrow (brought by the loss of his wife) and share the sorrow of others, bringing them closer. Relying on a rigorous and observing narrative strategy, the director avoids omniscient remarks about his characters. He honestly depicts — mostly through long shots — their daily routine, including significant details of their interactions.

As the motivation of the FIPRESCI jury states, The Reconstruction is “a realistic portrait of a person who re-discovers compassion in Ushuaia, a city at the end of the world, where no one is who they seem to be”. The young director was inspired to place the drama in the cold, savage landscape of Tierra de Fuego, not far from the South Pole. Generally avoiding lyrical touches, the movie depicts the immensity and hostility of this remote region as rhyming with the feeling of loneliness and dissimulated despair. Taratuto’s main merit is his penchant for austerity. Even the strong emotional moments are subtly suggested, such as the intelligently staged episode when the hero is hugged through shower curtains. Austerity helps Reconstruction to brilliantly avoid cheap melodrama. The realistic strategy relies on a classical linear narrative form — a continuous chain of cause and effects organized around a central protagonist — which guarantees, as Bertolt Brecht phrased it, “a strong emotional participation”.

The performance of Diego Peretti, one of Taratuto’s steady collaborators, also contributes to engaging the viewer’s empathy. A mixture of John Turturro and Al Pacino, Peretti charts very convincingly the hero’s journey from isolation to protective compassion. A simple, subtle and austere drama,The Reconstruction is a movie to remember for the remarkable life density it brings to the screen.

Edited by Tara Judah