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When his long-lost brother resurfaces, Jacobo, desperate to prove his life has added up to something, looks to scrounge up a wife. He turns to Marta, an employee at his sock factory, with whom he has a prickly relationship. Written by
"Whisky" (the smile-inducing word Uruguayan photographers will use, equivalent to the American "cheeeeese") is probably one of the ten best South American movies in recent years, which is saying a lot, since South America (especially Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay) is producing some of the most interesting films in the world right now.
Jacobo Köller, a terribly lonely middled-aged man, owns a falling-apart sock factory in Montevideo (Uruguay), which now is reduced to barely 3 workers: 2 girls and Marta, Jacobo's supervisor/ secretary, a terribly lonely middle-aged unmarried woman. Both Jacobo's and Marta's lives are plagued by the most painful routine, mirroring the drab, moribund sewing machines at the factory and Jacobo's agonizing old car.
When Jacobo's elderly mother dies, his younger, successful brother Herman, who lives in Brazil, comes to Uruguay to attend the Matzeivah. Jacobo, who has a distant and resentful relationship with his brother, asks Marta if she will pretend to be his wife for a few days so he won't have to cope with his brother all by himself. Marta agrees and this experience will be life changing for her.
"Whisky" is a 3-character movie in which you have 2 opposites that won't move (the two brothers) and one in motion (Marta). We see how Jacobo (the older brother) has trapped himself in rigidity, lack of ambition and shortsightedness. We see how Herman (the younger brother) possesses this most coveted "secret", that is, the ability to enjoy life even in negative circumstances (don't be afraid, he's no Pollyanna). But the film is really about Marta, who slowly realizes there's more to life than be stuck to the same exact routine everyday waiting for decay and death, and that machines and humans function differently.
"Whisky" is also a film about Uruguay, represented here in Jacobo's character. This once prosperous country, a stalwart of democracy, nicknamed "the Switzerland of South America", is now a country in dire need of technological updating, of restoration of its architectural treasures, and of serious political planning and execution of its economic and social future, and is paying high stakes for decades of unrealistic labor legislation and the aftermath of a traumatic dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. To prepare the future, one must take care of one's past, but also be prepared to bury the past when necessary (like the brothers have to bury their mother). There are no easy solutions.
The film is never obvious or boring, has a slow but skillful pace perfectly in tune with the characters' rhythms, and has a very becoming change of sets when the 3 characters go to a decadent seaside resort, Piriápolis, which is decisive for Marta's transformation. The editing is precise and the music well employed. The acting is no less than superb, all three actors OWN their characters and modulate in the subtlest ways, thanks to masterful script and direction. Of course, those characters have to be played by middle-aged actors with no face-lifts or botox, so a Hollywood remake is out of the question!
The warmest bravo, though, must go to the directors' choice of art direction and locations: they are priceless! Every location in this movie (the factory, the resort hotel, the Jewish cemetery, the soccer stadium, etc), every set, every decadent prop, sewing machine, car, table, elevator, computer, clock, typewriter, lamp, glass, telephone, radio or TV set, everything is both an incredible memorabilia of a "temps perdu" and a symbol of a technology long surpassed, "misfit", dead.
Perhaps the most original feature in "Whisky" is the way the film portrays Jacobo's character. We witness his total lack of ambition and real productivity, his overlook of labor rights (his employees work 12 hours daily!), his inability to perform the simplest tasks like washing dishes, having his car repaired or using an electric drill, and we initially tend to feel sorry for him, because he's apparently so harmless, helpless and unaggressive. But as the film unfolds, we see how his stubbornness may in fact be a sign of stupidity, how indifference can trigger sexism and fascism, how resentment turns into inflexibility, shortsightedness into blindness, and conformity into paralyzing rigidity, we realize this is one of the most appallingly cruel, believable and poignant movie characters in a long time. It's the humane but reckless portrait of a man who, by sticking to the past and refusing to change, contradicts the very essence of life itself: movement.
If you're in the mood of a sensitive, subtle, richly rewarding movie, don't miss this one - and it can be a life lesson too! My vote: a solid 8,5 out of 10.
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