"The Road to San Diego": A Straight Story By Klaus Eder

in 54th San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Klaus Eder

Carlos Sorin has situated some of his earlier films in the Southern province of Patagonia, among them Minimal Stories (Historias mínimas, 2002) and his previous film Bombón: El Perro (2004). In his new film The Road to San Diego (El Camino de San Diego) he changes to the North-East of Argentina, the province of Misiones, on the borderline of Brazil and Paraguay. Born and based in Buenos Aires, he seems still to be impressed by landscapes and lets them play an essential role, as a metaphor for nature and, simply, as beautiful images. The Road to San Diego accompanies a young man from the North to the capital, and it’s a journey from jungle-like forests in a subtropical climate to the austere monotony of plateaus and desolate and dusty country roads, ending up in unsightly suburbs of Buenos Aires which look still like province and avoid every feeling of a metropolis.

Sorin’s style did not change much from his preceding films. The Road to San Diego unfolds again a simple and straight story, told in a quasi-documentary way, acted mostly by amateurs.

Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable film.

The film begins with a view on a group of lumberjacks in the remote forests of Misiones. Carlos Sorin adds a small social aspect: the sawmill has economic difficulties and fires a part of the woodcutters. He adds a small ethnographical aspect, by introducing an indigene Guarani wood-carver. The film opens small windows to a reality behind the images.

Carlos Sorin focuses on a young man, Tati, who loses his job, tries to survive somehow, works for the wood-carver. Tati (marvellously played by a young amateur) has a Maradona tattoo on his body and wears a Maradona t-shirt. It’s not an attitude or a mode. It’s a sort of obsession. When the news arrive on TV that his idol has been hospitalised because of heart problems, he decides to go to Buenos Aires and bring him a gift. It’s a wooden statue which resembles – from far and with a lot of fantasy – the soccer star.

That’s the film: the story of a young man who adores and reveres Maradona, and who undertakes a long and tiring journey, almost a pilgrimage, to stand by his idol. There’s a simple ‘religion’ behind: the believe that the pilgrimage could save Maradona and help him surviving. As we know Maradona survived indeed, and Tati, the young man, might indeed think that his and other’s pilgrimage brought this about. There’s no way to disprove such superstition (did Werner Herzog not walk from Munich to Paris, in favour of Lotte Eisner?), and Carlos Sorin is for sure not the right filmmaker even to try this.

On his way, Tati meets a Brazilian truck driver who takes him along a big part of the route. In one scene, the road is blocked by a demonstration. The truck driver tries to convince the protesters to let him pass, because of thousands of chicken in his truck which need to be delivered quickly. He does not earn any pity or understanding. The road stays blocked. Then, Tati talks to the protesters and explains them that he wants to bring a gift to Maradona, and shows them the wooden statue. He gets applause, enthusiasm raises, and the road is immediately cleared. That’s a subtle comment on the power of myths and the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of reality. Carlos Sorin unfolds this not on the (Brazilian) background of a magic and surrealist realism but on the background of an (Argentinean) austere sense of reality: what you see is what you get. He says that the Italian neorealist influenced him, and even if Vittorio de Sica is far way back, The Road to San Diego is a film in his spirit. OK, at least a little bit. It’s neorealism turned into a sort of fairy-tale version with less sharp social contours, but with the same documentary view.

Carlos Sorin tells a simple story in a simple way, but gives it — from time to time, like a spotlight — a subtle significance behind the images. This is a disadvantage, because the film only brushes against social and ethnological items but doesn’t treat them profoundly or in a critical way. It’s at the same time an advantage because Sorin keeps the simplicity and integrity of his narration.

The Road to San Diego does not open new ways of filmmaking, or conquer a new filmic universe. Carlos Sorin is a traditionalist. He continued what he did before. Only, he does it in a nice, pleasant and enjoyable way.