The Renault Generation

in 5th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Diego Lerer

My life ain’t no holiday
I’ve been through the point of no return
(New Order, Vanishing Point)

In the 1970s, my parents used to own a white Renault 12 just like the one Alejandro drives in The Magic Gloves. Back then, the Renault was synonymous with Argentina’s strong middle class; it was the heart and soul of Buenos Aires’ thriving economy. Thirty years later, there’s no thriving middle class in Argentina, and the Renault has been reduced to a symbol of the past. Alejandro, the film’s main character, has been forced to turn his beloved old car into a “remise”, a kind of prostitute: they are both for hire.

The first words spoken in the film are by one of Alejandro’s passengers who complains that the car is old, falling apart and unreliable. He worries that he won’t get to his destination on time. Alejandro (played by Gabriel Fernandez Capello, aka Vicentico, a well known Argentine rock star) nods, listens and keeps driving. He seems not to care, but watching his face and body language, one senses he’s carrying the burden of this fallout in his back and overweight body.

The Renault brand was recognized as a sign of upward mobility in Argentina of the early 70s. My family started with a Renault 4 in the late sixties, then advanced to a Renault 6, and by the time we upgraded to the then luxurious and spacious Renault 12, we thought we were in car heaven. The Renault 12 was exceptional. It was what my parent’s generation thought we needed back then: being the owners of something solid and stable, not too big, pretentious and flashy, but durable and efficient.

We paid for the Renaults in cheap installments with the knowledge in the back of our heads that we’d soon exchange the old one for the latest model. But as the seventies gave way to the eighties, we, like most people, lost track of the Renault evolution. We saw the ads for the Renault 18, the 21, the 11, the 9, but by then we had to sell ours. Actually, after I left my parents house some fifteen years ago, they ended up having no car at all. And last year, they left the country for good.

I could not stop thinking about this during the whole duration of The Magic Gloves, the new comedy by the so-called “godfather” of the New Argentine Cinema, Martin Rejtman, who’s just 41 years old, a perfect example –like me- of “the Renault Generation”. It is a film that has a devalued white Renault 12 at its center, using it as a perfect metaphor for a generation that sees almost everything falling apart around. Every attempt at love ends up badly, every business opportunity has a far-off chance of success, every relationship is surrounded by a core of pain, detachment and emotional instability.

But, in Rejtman’s world, the demise of the middle class in Argentina is not a subject for lamentation but for dry laughs. A further exploration into the style that made his previous film, Silvia Prieto, so unique, Rejtman keeps doing his “Bresson-meets-Preston Sturges” mix in a way that’s faster and “loonier” than before. Trying to recap the thousand things that happens to Alejandro, his car, the gloves, his love relationships, his travels to and from the airport (it’s always the other guy, the passenger, who’s leaving) and his health, would be too long and it would ruin the many weird surprises the film has in store for the understanding audiences.

There’s something else, apart from the Renault thing, that remained with me long after the screening ended. Alejandro and a few other characters in the film must deal with health problems: they have difficulties hearing and seeing properly, they are overweight, they take copious amounts of anti-depressants. Just like the Renault 12, their bodies are falling apart, their feelings seem to be “for rent”, and they look like remnants of their healthy selves. They just try to sustain the hardship of everyday life with the straightest possible face. But, as the movie conclusion shows, they still remember how to dance the pain away.