When Argentinian-Spanish writer, Daniel Mantovani, receives the Nobel Prize for Literature, he is inundated with invitations to awards and ceremonies, most of which he rejects. Five years after winning the award, he has not produced any new work.
A surprise invitation from his home-town of Salas, Argentina, to receive their “Distinguished Citizen” award, sees him return to the place he has not visited for forty years, but which has been the setting of all his novels. The town he couldn’t wait to leave at age twenty, yet which has given him the work that has enabled his luxurious and fulfilled life, presents itself to him again, as he moves into the later years of his life. His visit kicks up old resentments, old loves and small-town hypocrisy
Directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn, along with screenwriter Andres Duprat, have brought the traditions and layers of Latin American literature to the screen in a perfectly-paced, richly detailed and gripping piece of cinema. Imbued with dark humour, this work lays bare the ironies of culture and the fetishisation of “rural and rustic stories for…European readers.”
Latin America has spawned its fair share of Nobel Literature Laureates, including Neruda, Marquez and Vargas Llosa; we feel all of this canon sitting behind the character of Mantovani, played superbly by Oscar Martinez.
Playing alongside Martinez is Argentinian actor, director and comedian, Dady Brieva, who shines as the dark and bitter Antonio, Mantovani’s old child-hood friend. Andrea Frigerio as Irene, Antonio’s wife and Mantovani’s old girlfriend, gives depth to what could have been a one-dimensional character; however, her role should have been larger. Generally, the women in this film were supporting roles, and there was a lack of depth to the female perspective. Sadly, this film fails the Bechdel Test.
However, this is still a great piece of cinematic work, following the old “art imitating life imitating art” formula, and avoids falling into any corny resolutions. The Spanish Film Festival always delivers an embarrassment of cinematic riches, and if The Distinguished Citizen is anything to go by, this year is no exception.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 10: 8