O Toque do Oboé (1998)

reviewed by
Mac VerStandig

The Call of the Oboe
Screened at Filmfest DC 1999
Reviewed by Mac VerStandig
1 Star (Out of 4)

Often similar to a little boy lost in a park that he had no right venturing into, The Call of the Oboe (O Toque Do Oboe) is a disappointing film that seems to have wandered astray. Many elements of the film are solid, and have potential far greater than director Claudio MacDowell will ever know, but they simply don't convert into a solid work.

Although a setting is never established, it becomes apparent. The film takes place somewhere in a Latin American village in present day. The community is a dull one, where every day is a downhill slide from the last. Over time, the people have taken to themselves. The town cinema is closed, no tourist has passed through in years, and the daily funeral processions are accompanied by no one other than the grave digger.

So what happens when a "tourist" (Paolo Betti) does arrive one day? He sends this routine and dull town into mayhem and shock. It is revealed that he is a musician who plays the oboe as a hobby. When he sits down in the park one day to give a solo performance, the entire community gathers around for their first bit of entertainment in countless years.

It is from that that the musician meets some of the villagers, and agrees to play at the local cinema in accompaniment to a silent film, thus opening the theatre for the first time in ages. The woman that talks him into this witty task is the cinema owner (Leticia Vota) who also happens to be engaged to the town's police inspector, a figure who soon becomes suspicious of his fiance's involvement with this musician.

The rest of the plot closely resembles a freak show gone horribly astray. It features a character who literally rises from his grave, a woman who has a phone conversation with God, and the aforementioned inspector who goes from an intriguing and serious character, to an almost humorous drunk.

Technically, this film is a nightmare. The music score is poorly edited into the film, so it is often choppy, rough, and abrupt. The lighting is poor at best, which makes it increasingly difficult to focus on many scenes, and the English subtitles are full of misspelled words, and are often absent presumably on the assumption that the audience will be able to understand some simple Portuguese and Spanish phrases. This translation flaw is best highlighted at the beginning of the film when what seems to be a relevant fight is filled with dialogue, but the subtitles are limited to fewer than 25 words.

In addition, the pace of the film seems uneven. It opens with a series of long panoramic shots that alone can test one's patience. The film then moves into a faster pace, that again slows towards the end, as the director seems determined to reach the two hour mark.

There was, however, potential for this film. It is a piece exploring the beauty of cinema and music, and the re-unification of people. These are all topics that could easily fill a movie. Perhaps, if there were no freak show, and the technical aspects were to improve, there might just be a thing of beauty at the end. Most importantly, though, the director would have to patch up the plot and make it flow better so that the two hours aren't such a bore. Until then, there seems to be little more hope for this piece, than that boy has by simply crying out "Mommy" while he wanders astray in a park.

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