Dir Daniel Burman Argentina/France/Italy/Spain. 2003. 101 mins.
Argentinian director Daniel Burman's fourth feature, which picked up the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale, is a bittersweet comedy of national, personal and religious identity set in a Jewish inner city suburb of Buenos Aires at the low point of the country's economic slump. Though it deals with serious subjects - lost fathers, lost love, the strategies we use to define who we are - the film's comic sureness of touch and its range of lively character parts serve to embed the heavier issues in a deceptively light dramatic chassis.
Part of this is down to talented young Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler, a deserved winner of the Best Actor prize at Berlin, who carries the central, quasi-narratorial role of Ariel with a fine dramatic intuition, conveying both the pent-up anger and the ironic resignation of this overgrown, thirty-year-old adolescent. Sales company Bavaria Film can expect to shift this in a raft of territories, with Hispanic and Latin markets in both Europe and the Americas being the most obvious targets.
Much of the action takes place in the seedy, old-style shopping mall where Ariel works in his mother's lingerie shop. The script and the production design both capture perfectly the faint air of desperation that hangs around such tired commercial ventures in post-devaluation Argentina. The variegated fauna of the mostly Jewish mall includes an Italian family who repair radios and vie to out-shout each other, the Feng Shui knick-knack stall of a Korean couple who speak little or no Spanish, and the Intenet café which Ariel's squeeze - the peroxide blonde Rita - runs with the help of her sugar-daddy patron.
Ariel has something in common with the character played by Daniel Bruehl in Good bye, Lenin! - stymied by history and disempowered by an older sibling, he is trying to carve out an identity for himself. And he too has an absentee father. We see him in a home movie of Ariel's circumcision; the very next day, he went off to Israel to fight a war, and never returned (though he still sends money and rings Ariel's mother once a week).
The Buenos Aires of Burman's film is a world of chancers, like Ariel's brother Joseph, who once wanted to be a rabbi but has ended up cutting deals on novelty items, including a hilariously surreal 'singing fish'. It's also a world of confused loyalties: Ariel is Argentinian, and Jewish and also - thanks to his refugee grandmother - Polish. He latches onto this last identity like a liferaft, and one of the funniest scenes in the film is a passport interview with the Polish consul, in which Ariel, eager to impress, reels off a list of famous Poles, from the Pope to Roman Polanski ('you know, the one who had that problem with that girl').
Ramero Civita's camera keeps close to the characters, creating an airless sense of everyone being on top of one another, and Cesar Lerner's tango-inflected klezmer soundtrack hits the right note of comic melancholy, complementing Ariel's deadpan voice-overs. Though there are moments when it drags a little, Lost Embrace wins its audience back with a perfectly scripted ending, a graceful resolution that cuts to the final credits just before things get too sentimental.
Prod co BD Cine Srl
Co-prod cos Paradis Films (Fr), Classic (It), Wanda vision (Sp)
Int'l sales Bavaria Film International +49 (0)89 6499 2686
Prods Diego Dubcovsky, Daniel Burman
Co-prods Marc Sillam, Amedeo Pagani, JM Morales
Scr Marcelo Birmajer, Daniel Burman
Cinematography Ramero Civita
Prod Des Maria Eugenia Sueiro
Ed Alejandro Brodersohn
Music Cesar Lerner
Main cast Daniel Hendler, Adriana Aizemberg, Jorge D'Elia, Sergio Boris, Diego Korol