If ever the name of a film is a true precursor of what to expect from its watching experience for the viewers, this would be it. I think it’s only the second Argentinian movie I am watching after that masterful mood piece of a slow burn thriller, The Secret in Their Eyes. The brilliance of both these films makes me wonder if I shouldn’t be watching more from this South American land of Maradona and Messi and of a chequered history of dictatorships. One of the co-producers here is Pedro Almodóvar, and true to his form, this film too is an amalgam of cinema which threads the line between what would be considered as ‘artsy’ fare and commercial filmmaking. Lest it is not yet obvious from my review so far, it comes out a winner for the school of thought that ascertains that there is no ‘art’ or ‘commercial’ cinema, only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ cinema.
There are multiple short stories here, all a pointer to the repressed rage and dissatisfaction which is simmering beneath a populace that is burdened and aggrieved at an inefficient and corrupt government machinery. All it takes is a fuse to be lit at that perfect point of light and darkness for all that simmering emotions to come forth. And that’s what happens in each of these tales. The initial one is about a flight full of passengers who gradually realise that they all are in some way or the other related or acquainted to a certain person from their past. Suffice to say, there is a remarkably grim reason why they all ended up on this particular flight on the same day. It’s a riveting start to the portmanteau. There is a story of two late night diner workers who find that a patron is a dreaded figure of hate and fear and have to decide what they want to do with him, now that he is in their midst. There is a story involving that oft-abused theme of road rage; here, we see an exaggerated (and yet wholly believable) outcome of events of what can happen if two people decide to get momentarily unhinged with each other.
The relation with ‘The Secret in Their Eyes’ also extends to one of the actors; the brilliant Ricardo Darin, who plays a frustrated explosives expert here. His running feud with the transport authority for what he feels is unfair towing away of his car from the wrong zone leads to his putting his skills to good use eventually. There is another story dealing with the rich and mighty trying to get out of a sticky situation by using their money to make someone else take the fall before this one too delves into a retrospective of greed and corruption. The story which rounds things off is an inversion of the happy love story theme with a wild (that word again) couple doing a psychotic dance of one-upmanship when one of them is found to have cheated. This is a crazily escalating love-hate story which idiosyncratically is the only one of the anthologies which can claim to have a bizarrely happy ending.
It’s crazy, at times horrific and at times depressing. But never less than supremely entertaining and edge-of-seat. A brilliant cross-section of humanity and what the daily grind and numbing of the senses to what we come to perceive as the status quo can do to a fragile psyche. Around the same time, I had caught up with that surrealistically eccentric masterpiece from 1995, Kusturica’s Underground, and I could see similarities in that auteurs work and this film. But as a work of art, this stands brilliantly apart on its own and is something every cinephile should take a look at. As for me, I think it’s time I took a look at some more of Argentine cinema.