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Monday, 11 September 2017

Sydney Latin American Film Festival - Barrie Pattison admires a new movie starring Ricardo Darin CAPITAN KOBLIC (Sebastián Borensztein, Argentina, 2016)

So they ran the Sydney Latin American Film Festival level with the Persian Film Festival as if tracking down fringe movie shows wasn't hard enough. Why should they worry? The support they get from the serious movie goers is in the area of nada.

I did manage to get to Capitan Kóblic the new movie from the Un cuento chino/ Chinese Take Away (Argentina, 2011) team of director Sebastián Boren-sztein and leading Argentinian star Ricardo Darin.  This one fields some of the most accomplished Hispanic performers and technicians to back up Darin in one of his best “I may be tortured by my past but don’t mess with me” characters. It works a treat.

In 1973 pilot Ricardo is on the run after being involved in heaving opponents of the dictatorship out of a military plane. Leaving the gaunt woman we never learn anything about, the most out of sight he can get is seedy rural hamlet Colona Elena with its bare trees and scruffy fields, which his old flier pal crop dusts. Ricardo moves into the isolated hangar after being told to only use the airfield truck because his car screams stranger.

Ricardo Darin, Capitan Koblic
The plane’s motor failure means Ricardo has to land on the highway just missing local Marshall Oscar Martínez (barely recognisable from his equally impressive star turn in El ciudadano ilustre/Distinguished Citizen). He’s the last person Ricardo wants to get to know as he wheedles and re-shapes information about everything happening in town. Nothing like providing him with a pilot whose plane is on the ground to go to work on. He also shoots the pet dog that is barking while he interrogates its owner. Martinez impeccably maximises the character’s complexity and menace.

Also around is young Marcos Cartoy Díaz, in a Basque beret and patterned sweater, and a visit to the local garage to pick up a tank of butane gas introduces Inma Cuesta (Blancanieves/Snow White), the film’s most scrubbed up character, though she turns out also to have a twisted back story. Soon she and Ricardo are in passionate embrace and her loathsome husband Juan Bernardo Forteza is taking an unwelcome interest in Ricardo, egged on by the sly implications of Martinez. Time for a bit of The Postman Always Rings Twice.  We’re not too far from Bad Day at Black Rock either though the new film is a genuine original.



By this time all the characters have surprised us and there are crows circling over the cornfield which can’t be a good sign. The makers liked their shot of the owl on the gravestone too. It turns up in the trailer. Ricardo now has a dog, a woman and a kid he owes big to worry about, as well as the law and the military.

The way this is worked out is particularly satisfying in the best action movie tradition, gaining more strength from the detailed, miserable setting. I’ve commented on the community between Argentina and Australia before - both countries separated from their cultural roots by an ocean, both having a broad streak of military machismo. It’s striking again here. Martinez keeps on evoking Chips Rafferty in Wake in Fright and this time we get "amiguismo" which comes alarmingly close to a perverted mateship.


The sure handling - sparse widescreen imagery and plausible staging, the strong performances and the film’s inventively violent streak make this one of the best pieces of popular cinema around. I'd hate to suggest that there's any logic to the selection of material offered at this festival. In fact, and more generally selection of fringe film for the local market, especially 'festivals', seems irrational.  In further fact, Capitan Kóblic has a firm-handed intensity which is unlike both the multiplex and art movies around. It's closer to Alberto Rodriguez' 2014 La isla minima/Marshland. Capitan Kóblic hasn’t been received with any enthusiasm outside its original market which makes one worry about its fate in the limbo which has claimed so much Hispanic film. 


Watching the new Tom Cruise wide distribution movie American Made also about a rogue pilot, I couldn't stop thinking how much better Koblic was.

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