Mauro: A Most Argentine Movie

in 16th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Marina Yuszczuk

There could be probably no movie more Argentine than one about money, in a country where everyone talks about money (l’argent) all the time. Saving and losing money, watching it lose its value rather quickly sometimes, is one of the most disturbing Argentinean experiences you could ever have, despite the commonplaces about football and tango. Mauro (Mauro), winner of both the second prize in the International competition and the Fipresci Prize of the 16th Bafici, turns out to be iconic as a low-budget story about money and low-budget dreams. Mauro is a middle-class Argentine who’s missing a tooth and is starting to lose some hair as well. Strangely young and old and decadent at the same time, Mauro works as a “hustler”, that is, someone who goes around buying stuff and paying with counterfeit money so as to make it circulate. Eventually Mauro and his friend Luis set up a printing workshop to produce their own money, and they come up with beautifully handcrafted bills that are almost impossible to distinguish from the real ones.

Far from the cinematographic ideas or stereotypes of dealers and forgers, Luis and Mauro have a hint of ingenuity and, perhaps, a secret conviction that making their own money is just as legitimate work as getting money by any legal means. In fact, their workshop is no different than that of a mechanic or an electrician, and as they work shirtless in the backyard wearing white and yellow helmets, they seem to portray a new image of the (almost) late proletariat.

Just as bills circulate in the city and are typically lost forever, so people and their relations also circulate. Mauro meets a woman named Paula in a night club and at the end of the night they start talking about money. No one knows who Paula really is, or knows her well enough to tell if she’s a fake, despite the childhood pictures that seem intended to give authenticity to a present full of deceit and distrust. As for Luis, his dreams of having a baby with his girlfriend seem to be fleeting, and Mauro’s friendship is at times as unreliable as the 20 pesos bills that they create together.

Especially attentive to the details of the production –the amount of painting required to make a number 20 look bright enough but not too bright, the way to give the paper the exact degree of roughness, and so on, Mauro is a close-up of an unusual type of work that does exist but only as part of a bigger, alternative economic circuit of post-crisis Argentina which also includes the many fairs where Mauro puts his artisanal bills into circulation.

With its unexpected narrative skill, this first film by Hernán Rosselli achieves great authenticity in its portrayal of every character who is part of this world of buying and selling, and also intelligently delineates the multiple relations between money and affection. By showing, for example, at the reception of the motel where Mauro takes Paula for their first night together, the little box on the counter to put the bills and distract from the fact that one is, after all, paying for sex, the film compresses in the image of the ephemeral bills the invested hopes and dreams of a disenchanted class.

Edited by Alison Frank