A recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, who has been living in Europe for decades, accepts an invitation to receive a prize. In Argentina he finds both similarities and irreconcilable differences with the people of his hometown.
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After refusing big and prestigious awards all over the world, Mr. Mantovani, Literature Nobel Prize winner, accepts an invitation to visit his hometown in Argentina, which has been the inspiration for all of his books. It turns out that accepting this invitation is the worse idea of his life. Expect the unexpected when you have used real people as characters in your novels!
Black comedies are a difficult movie genre. They have to get the tone exactly right, otherwise they are either not funny enough or too much over the top. In this respect, 'El ciudadano ilustre' is perfect. It's understated enough to be subtle, and surreal enough to make you laugh. It has this quality in common with that other Argentinian surprise from three years ago, 'Relatos Salvajes'.
'El ciudadano ilustre' is about a Nobel-prize winning author living in Spain, who decides to accept an invitation to become honorary citizen of his hometown, a sleepy backwater in the south of Argentina in which all of his novels are set. At first, it is unclear why he decides to accept this invitation, and only in the final minutes of the film this question is more or less answered. This nice twist at the end is the cherry on the cake.
The author, used to being admired and praised everywhere he goes, has to adapt to the less sophisticated way of life in his hometown. Already during the drive from the airport, he is in for a surprise. The car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, and he is forced to tear his latest novel apart in order to use the pages for lighting a camp fire. It's symbolic for the lack of respect the local people have for his novels. Some of them are not extremely enthusiastic about the way their town is portrayed.
His visit starts a series of unexpected events, in which art, sex, violence and local politics play a part. But the film's bizarre story line is not its only quality. Above all, it's the way the local community is shown. In one small scene, the author is sitting on a street bench when an old man appears from a nearby house to bring him a cup of the Argentinian drink 'mate'. He drinks in silence, returns the cup to the man, who re-enters the house. End of scene.
'El ciudadano ilustre' is a wonderful film, highly recommended for anyone who likes understated humor and surreal situations.
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