Dir. Santiago Loza, Argentina, 2003, 87mins, Subtitles
Cast: Julio Chávez, Valeria Bertucelli, Raquel Albéniz
Review by Miles Paulley
Enigmatic protagonist Axel, aged about 40, is a doctor who no longer practices his craft, for reasons we never really discover. Set in Buenos Aires, he is living temporarily with his sister and her children, of whom the eldest child bonds well with him. Silent and pensive, his life is empty of action, and he just exists a little between the people and things around him. One day, he meets a young, pregnant woman, Erika, in a café and a relationship develops. Living together as Erika’s pregnancy progresses, the pair keep one another’s loneliness at bay.
If you have your heart set on watching an entertaining film, then Santiago Loza’s Extrano truly would be a strange choice. If you plan to watch a film with subtle meanings and real life vitality then perhaps this film should be on your shopping list, but having said that, this film certainly won’t be to everyone’s palettes, particularly because the film should really be appreciated for its statement of human morality rather than gripping storyline.
Our Kevin Spacey look alike (Chavez) plays his character with a real precision rivalling that of Mr Spacey himself. Our protagonist finds himself imploding throughout the film, sparked by an unknown cause, helping create a relevance to almost everyone that views it. There seems to be something touching and fresh in Loza’s style justifiably earning the film maker a Tiger award at the Rotterdam film festival.
The relentless emphasis on Axel’s emptiness is a subject many directors don’t completely follow through with, making Loza’s perception of the medium unique and thought provoking. However, amongst all this praise it must also be said that during many of the long takes one would find themselves gazing at the screen, wondering whether something dramatic was going to stir. However tiresome some shots are, Loza should certainly be commended for his true approach to the subject, after all, an entertaining and dramatic film would never have the capabilities to reveal the subject in the same light.
Tackling a script where the plot strictly isn’t interested in the world surrounding its characters enabled Loza to concentrate on the almost claustrophobic and mundane world of its main characters, which in turn allows the film to home in on Chavez’s talents to portray such a shell shocked character.
It would be inconceivable to mention this films presence without noting the work of Willi Behnisch, who seems to have captured the mood of the story in every frame without ever overstating it. He establishes a strong relationship between Axel’s thoughts and feelings, and the atmosphere of the world around him. From start to finish, the aesthetics take on a chilly, even cold vibe, except when Axel has involved himself with the positive role of caring for the pregnant lady. This small key point becomes the heart of the film and the main signifier of what Loza is trying to tell us; it’s the small gestures and courtesies that often mean the most.
Indeed, this film does not tarnish itself with allegories or hidden meanings, instead it is clear, direct and seems to pin down a feeling which we’ve all been through. It would be hard to find an adult who can’t relate to Axel’s situation. Bear in mind that this film needs to be viewed in an attentive mindset.
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