Dir:Rodrigo Moreno. Arg/Ger/Fr. 100 mins.

ElCustodio did nothing to satisfy festivalBerlinale audiences hungry for a little light entertainment. This study of anArgentinian government minister's police minder is painfully slow, taking allof 90 minutes to build to its first, and last, moment of real action. But itis also a strangely compelling exercise in laconic narrative, building up aportrait of a lost, lonely man who is the passive and frustrated observerof other, richer, more powerful and successful lives.

Aninterminable list of co-producers and backers in the credits suggests just howcommercially fragile this austere project is, and its distribution chancesoutside of festivals and its native Argentina appear slim.

Butwith its shades of Lucrecia Martel (La Cienaga, The Holy Girl) - especially in the quirky off-centre cinematography andhyper-real sound texture - Moreno's second full-length feature is aworthy addition to the new Argentinian cinema.

JulioChavez (Illuminado por el Fuego) plays Ruben, whosejob is to keep the urbane and arrogant Minster of Planning under surveillance.

Hetails along to the minister's meetings, TV appearances, extra-maritalassignations and country weekends.

Buthe's always on the edge of the action, waiting, inhabiting non-spaces like corridors,hallways, anterooms.

Hescratches his ear, sniffs his fingers, gets a cup of water from the gluggingdispenser, and watches fragments of the minister's busy life going on throughdoors and windows.

We seethe oddly framed fragments that he sees - these skewed angles suggestinghis exclusion, his failure ever to get the whole picture.

Theminister babbles on to his assistants about things Ruben has no interest in; wehear the sound of his breathing, or a tinny radio station.

Theonly time the minister calls Ruben into his inner circle is when he calls onhim, like a trained seal, to exhibit his one talent by sketching one of the minister's house guests.

Athome, Ruben seems equally alienated. His sister is apparently in psychiatriccare, dreaming of a singing career for her daughter.

But ina devastating restaurant scene with shades of Mike Leigh, it becomes apparentthat the girl can't sing for toffee.

Thereare few clues as to what is going on in Ruben's head - but it is thisthat makes Chavez' performance - a mid-festival contender for the BestActor prize - all the more watchable as a study in bottled-upfrustration.

The audience is forced to do so much of the work to colour in hisblank emotions that the violent denouement actually feels reductive, allowingus to place the character of Ruben in the neat cinematic pigeon-hole of themild-man-who-snapped.




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