The Half-Empty Glass By Martín Pérez

in 8th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Martin Perez

They´ve just made love, and she’s already dressing. She asks what he’s doing there. Making a house, is the answer. She asks again: Where? Where you put your tent, he says. But there’s nothing there, is her surprised reply.

She’s right: Where the new house would have to be is nothing, and there will be nothing for a long time. Neither on the land, nor in the life of David, a lethargic, luckless young man who’s lost his scholarship to study in Montevideo. In order to recover it, he will have to take an examination at the end of the year. And until then, he will have to spend the winter at the summer house of his authoritarian father in La Pedrera, a small Uruguayan seaside town. David’s father has ordered his son to build a house of his own, a task that proves Herculean for the weak young man in his morose, static surroundings.

If you ask director Manuel Nieto Zas –best known as Manolo Nieto- about The Dog Pound (La Perrera), he will tell you it’s a true story. Manolo’s script was inspired by a friend with a life similar to David’s. But, he points out, the friend took three years to complete his house.

Born in Montevideo in 1972, Nieto was assistant director to his compatriots Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll in his movies 25 Watts and Whisky, and did the same job on Los Muertos for the Argentinean Lisandro Alonso.

Nieto spent four years working on the script of his own directorial debut; one might say that the creative process of the movie is closer to what happens in real life than in the film, where David takes a morose year to build a house on land his father bought for his 18 th birthday.

During that year, David will try to survive in a world that’s not his. Without a clear life project, and economically dependent on his father, his daily distractions include drugs and masturbation. His silent frustration is worsened by the complaints of the people helping him to build his house – especially when his father doesn’t pay them – and compounded by his father’s desertion.

Situated somewhere between the closed universe of the cinema of Rebella and Stoll, and the untamed naturalism of Alonso’s, Nieto’s debut feels neither wild nor urban, but reflects sagaciously on that moment in life when nothing seems possible. A movie that only sees a half-empty glass, The Dog Pound attracts by its obsession for the fall of a young man devoid of character and frustrated in every way that anyone can imagine. Around him is a semi-empty seaside town, and a community miserable and masochistic, in a very Uruguayan way – a nod, perhaps, to 25 Watts and that ancestor of contemporary Uruguayan cinema, Alvaro Buela’s Una forma de bailar.

Filmed on location in La Pedrera, and featuring the town’s real inhabitants in its cast, Nieto’s movie has a particular black humor, but at the same time a brutal cinematic and aesthetic honesty, that builds a world of its own.