Film Scouts Reviews

"Buenos Aires Vice Versa"

by Karen Jaehne

May 17, 1996

Written and directed by Alejandro Agresti. Cinematography by Ramiro Aisenson. Music by Paul Van Brugge.

Starring: Vera Fogwill (Daniela), Fernan Miras (Mario), Mirta Bushnelli (Loca TV), Nicolas Pauls (Damian), Carlos Roffe (Service), Mario Paolucci (Amigo Service).

In Argentina an entire generation has been ripped out of history, orphaned by the systematic destruction and "disappearance" of their families and friends during the military dictatorship. Alejandro Agresti tries to show us how disconnected and disoriented they have become in this loosey-goosey tale of some 20 characters.

Structured - that is to say unstructured - in the fashion of "Short Cuts" or "The Player" - Agresti follows several characters through small adventures that connect them in the larger story of social disintegration of an entire city. A girl who is perhaps 6 years older than an orphan boy living on the streets befriend each other in a wary but needy way. The older characters include people working in trivial jobs, people losing their jobs, an uncle who cons his nephew into giving him a free pass to an assignation hotel where he works as an attendant.

Most of these people pass through the hotel at one point, so we see them at their most revealing - expressing themselves sexually. And they run the gamut from the masochistic former fascist officer to a nice girl with her own apartment who innocently invites to men to come up for coffee, only to be attacked.

The film tells you enough about each character to raise your sympathy and not enough to let us see any possible resolution of the dilemma of loneliness. It's an intelligent film that observes mannerisms and social behavior in a way that makes you nod and say, yes, that's how it is. Nevertheless, that's how it is in Argentina - and I'm not sure North American audiences will react with the same empathy and identification. (I do, because I have lots of friends from Argentina.)

You don't need to know the history of Argentina's secret and dirty little war to appreciate this film. Any film student could identify with Daniela, who has her degree in film and is having trouble finding work. She thinks she's very lucky when an older couple, living in recluse, hire her to film Buenos Aires for them - an hour for $500. She goes out and documents the city. Her patrons, however, are outraged.

This is not the Buenos Aires they remember, and their reason for this tape is strictly nostalgia. Daniela is hurt at their rejection of her honest esthetic, but she faces a larger reality - the rent - and shoots a reel of tourist-type shots. Her pain is palpable, and her lack of family makes the misunderstanding with the older couple even more appalling: their daughter was killed, her parents were killed, and yet the only link between them is this lie that denies the true city.

Agresti says he's not finished with the film because he wants to cut a few minutes out of it, which won't hurt since it's now over two hours. It builds toward a very powerful ending that reminds us of all urban disaster, but the problem that has made Buenos Aires a metropolitan orphanage is undeniable. "Buenos Aires - Vice Versa" is a wise film - worth watching and will undoubtedly make it to a festival near you.

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