I'm thinking maybe "Cordero de Dios" and "La mujer sin cabeza", two of the most important Argentinean films of last year, may have taken a bit of inspiration from "El otro", writer/director Ariel Rotter's tale of desperation and loneliness. The visual search, with accentuated and well framed still cameras, the apparent nothingness of the events that take place (usually confused with the term 'boring'), speak well of Rotter-in terms of a filmmaker with something to say- and recall the movies previously mentioned.
But the visual search here is clearer than in "Cordero de Dios" and the situation that leads to the 'journey' of the protagonist, Juan (Juio Chávez), is less specified than in "La mujer sin cabeza". In both aspects, "El otro" seems to be a riskier picture; a picture that is less willing to help the viewer solve its mysteries. And when I say 'journey' I mean not only the journey we see Juan experience on screen but also the one he's living inside; and don't forget a journey of the senses for the viewer A journey where the viewer is obliged to think.
Suddenly Juan, an apparently calm lawyer, seems to run away from the comfort of his daily life. He finds out his wife's pregnant, he arrives home and we see him staring at her feet (an image that's recurrent throughout the film); then he visits his sick father (Osvaldo Bonet) and tells him he'll not be with him the next day because of a business trip. When we see Juan on the bus before leaving, he looks sweaty and tired. If you pay attention, you may conclude he's scared.
And the journey begins. Why? How is it possible? Is there something more than the sudden news? With the car crash suffered by Vero (María Onetto, who also plays a small role here), Lucrecia Martel made it easier for the viewer, delivering something/somewhere precise to depart from, and showing us her inner circle of people. About Juan we know nothing, and it's to Rotter's credit that we follow the actions of this boring-and maybe bored-man with a lot of interest for more than an hour.
I was never quite sure where Juan went for his business trip, but the movie doesn't want us to know about that particular place and its people. The only thing the movie wants from that place is that it appears as virtually deserted and has something appealing enough so Juan decides to stay for more than one day. The rest is improvisation, or it may all be a dream. Sudden convenient deaths, beautiful improbable women, two or more hotels (also virtually deserted), Juan walking in the dark night with his black suit: his fear, our fear. The morning: peace.
With this title role, Julio Chavéz completes the 'silence' trilogy started with "Extraño" and "El custodio". Far away from the pretentious objectives of the first film, and with a lot of more room to talk than in the second one, Chávez finds in Juan a natural balance and exploits it achieving the best performance of the three. Some elements are the same (we are never sure of who the man is, what his intentions are and, of course, the silence), but the director's concept is more well-rounded than in the previous pieces and it comes to light in the actor's work.
Let's never forget that cinema is many things, and making us think can't be something to underestimate. When Juan is all by himself at a funeral, without knowing exactly why he's there; when he's standing watching the coffin in his black suit, I thought about a chapter in Albert Camus' "L'Etranger". There, the main character expressed his inside thoughts of how he felt in a similar situation.
I think Juan was saying those same things, or maybe not. What do you think?
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