The Distinguished Citizen (2016) | Venice Film Festival | Coppa Volpi
Dirs: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn
118min | Comedy Drama | Argentina
When an Argentinian Nobel prize winner returns to the village of his birth he discovers a lawless Wild West, or has he just become “over-civilised”.
This pithy premise underpins Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s latest film, starring Oscar Martinez (of Paulina and Wild Tales fame) as the world weary and emotionally avoidant author Daniel Mantovani, who returns to a remote village about six hours drive from Buenos Aires, to accept a medal. Having left there many years ago, he never felt the impetus to go back having made a successful writing career in Europe where he lives in palatial splendour in the leafy hills of Barcelona’s Tibidabo.
Written by Gaston’s brother Andres Duprat, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is a tightly-scripted, insightful and often hilarious satire with echoes of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 2004 comedy Whisky with its themes of parochial pettiness and cultural awareness. The tone is always light but touches upon some dark home truths and the simple framing and architectural sensibilities makes this an interesting film to watch although Maria Eugenia Sueiro’s interiors reflect a faded seventies aesthetic.
The film opens as Daniel is delivering a trenchant rebuke at the acceptance ceremony mocking the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Fast forward five years and he is on the plane to BA where we are given of taste of what is to come when his airport taxi driver breaks down in a field, hours from Salas, forcing them to spend the night in the middle of nowhere round a campfire lit with one of the pages from his recent novel. The following morning that same book comes in handy as lavatory paper – and we all realise where things are going.
The narrative unspools in five parts – for no specific reason – as Daniel goes back in time to a homespun and unsophisticated community stuck in the past, who respond entirely inappropriately treating him like a local soap star rather than an intellectual introvert. He bumps into his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) who is now married to his butch friend Antonio (Dady Brieva), a mean dancer and an even meaner game hunter – a talent that plays out in Daniel’s hasty departure in the final scenes. The film centres on the small-town mentality that really rears its ugly head as the story develops, the inhabitants gradually turning the writer from hailed hero to vilified outsider in their collective mean-spiritedness.
This is an enjoyable and intelligent piece of cinema where dark and deadpan situational comedy arises out of bizarre encounters (much in the same vein as those of the recent Toni Erdmann) and bitter ironies, with some memorable maxims to reflect on: “making things simple is an artistic kindness” . MT
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 | BEST ACTOR \ OSCAR MARTINEZ