"The Road to San Diego" A Chronicle of Men and Heroes By Alvaro Sanjurjo Toucon

in 28th Havana International Festival of the New Latinamerican Cinema

by Alvaro Sanjurjo Toucón

Argentinean filmmaker Carlos Sorin (Bombón, el Perro, which won the FIPRESCI prize in San Sebastian 2004, and the much-awarded Historias Mínimas) is back with The Road to San Diego (El Camino de San Diego). It helps us to appreciate even more his earlier works.

In Historias Mínimas, the strategy was to connect a web of interconnected stories in order to depict the simple lives of men and women in isolated Patagonia. Bombón, el Perro revisited the expressive roughness of the south of Argentina, telling a story which could have been a follow-up to Historias Mínimas. Both movies were characterized by a direct style and the inclusion of professional as well as nonprofessional actors, chosen by the director himself in a diversity of settings and situations. The storyline, the style, and the arid Patagonian landscape of Bombón el Perro make it seem like one in the set of stories told in Historias Mínimas. We could also highlight the strong presence of a few main characters at the center of Historias Mínimas.

In The Road to San Diego Sorin remains faithful to his style, at the same time introducing elements allowing for a more transcendental and multidimensional interpretation of his work. This time Patagonia is left aside; the exuberant Misiones jungle is the chosen setting. Once again the background becomes a strong influence on the characters’ lives. Whereas Historias Mínimas and Bombón el Perro were quasi-road movies set in the deep south, The Road to San Diego is a pilgrimage movie, going from the Misiones jungle to Buenos Aires. In this way, filmmaker and scriptwriter Sorin displays a new turn of the screw, using effective narrative and dramatic mechanisms. However, here there is a distinctive element that turns this movie into a detailed testimony of popular cults. The main character is a young unemployed local man and occasional wood sculptor who thinks to have found an image of the football player Diego Armando Maradona in the huge root of a native tree. On discovering that Maradona is hospitalized, the strong-willed character begins a hard journey to the cosmopolitan Argentinean capital city, in order to present the sculpture to his hero.

That this naïve young man meets several people who represent popular feelings and lifestyles on his trip is one of the main features that links this film with the two previous works. This alone, even though not an original resource, would have been enough to place The Road to San Diego among Argentina’s most prestigious cinematographic productions. However, an Argentinean spectator, geographically and emotionally closer to the reality depicted here, can also find a different interpretation: the irrational deification of someone who is allowed to leave his limited social and economical background and have access to the circle of the “untouchables”.

Sorin skillfully combines documentary footage of an unreflective, probably self-destructive, Maradona with the scenes involving the young man. He also materializes the link between the hero and the anonymous crowd. They feel as if they are part of their revered idol’s world just because they are close to him, or, as is the case here, when he merely accepts a present from them. Here the sculpture becomes the object, which, if accepted, will create the quasi- religious bond between the “god” Maradona and his worshippers, the people, represented by the young man from Misiones and those who help him reach his goal.

The resemblance between the root itself and the raised arms of the football player after scoring a goal is clear. The unconscious is also present in this same gesture made by General Peron when waving to the crowd of supporters from the Pink House balcony. Sorin has probably not taken into account these metalinguistic components, but the idea is still an attractive explanation of the massive actions of a nation whose popular cults have determined certain collective actions.

The title, The Road to San Diego, obviously recalls The Path of Santiago which, after going through a vast extension of Europe, ends up in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Coincidently, there is a connection between San Diego (which later became Santiago) and the name of the number 10 player canonized by the Argentinean fans.

Sport hasn’t been a major theme in Argentinean movies, even though it is a significant part of the national identity. Sorin’s films highlights the value of his work. In the same way in which we can watch a match from different perspectives depending on where we are seated, The Road to San Diego can be interpreted from various points of view. One has just to choose one of the many perspectives offered by the great filmmaker who is Carlos Sorin.