Dir: Carlos Sorin. Arg. 2002. 93 mins.
The title says it all: set in the remote Patagonian steppes of Southern Argentina, Minimal Stories is a comedy of great warmth and sweetness whose charm lies above all in its unpretentious ambitions. Careful marketing and critical support will be essential to nurture this beguiling little road movie about three people with pressing and very personal reasons for taking the long empty road from their tiny village to the nearest (although not-very-near) town of San Julian. However, after playing in competition at San Sebastian following its presentation in the Toulouse programme of work in progress earlier this year, Minimal Stories should expect an extended tour on the festival route, leading eventually to niche arthouse and small screen destinations.
Known to all and sundry as "grandpa", 80-year-old Don Justo (a scene-stealing Benedictis), the retired manager of the local general stores, is treated as a semi-invalid by his family, which pours scorn on his mission to find his lost dog. Undaunted, he sneaks off in the middle of the night, confident of being able to hitch a ride with one of the passing trucks.
In the second subplot Roberto (Lombardo, one of the cast's only two professional actors), a travelling salesman, intends to woo and win the widow of one of his clients by arriving unannounced with a lavish birthday cake for her small child. Getting the vital gift exactly right proves an anguished business for this control freak who lives his life through self-help manuals.
The third subplot, less developed and skimpily integrated with the others, follows Maria (Javiera Bravo), a young woman who lives in a simple shack with no electricity but is determined to pursue her chance of winning a food processor on a television game show.
The director, Carlos Sorin, comes from a background in commercials. His debut, La Pelicula Del Rey, won the Silver Lion in Venice in 1986, while his second, Eversmile, New Jersey (1989), was an odd comedy in which Daniel Day Lewis played an itinerant Irish dentist travelling the back roads of Patagonia. Minimal Stories, only his third feature, is greatly the better for dispensing with star names.
Shot largely with local people and designed entirely around their personalities and experiences, the film employs a loose improvisational filming style using two 16mm cameras. The approach results in lovely unforced performances from the principals as well as from the numerous colourful individuals who they meet along the way. It all adds up to a vivid, affectionate portrait of a culture at the ends of the earth and barely touched by the modern world.
The three main narrative strands are drawn lightly together by the characters' intersecting paths and by the common theme: the need to follow one's dreams, however modest, and the way that these often come true in unexpected but gratifying ways. The open skies and clarity of the light make for a bright handsome film and the vast epic landscape lends the minimal stories a quiet heroic grandeur.
Prod cos: Guacamole, Wanda Vision
Arg dist: Nirvana
Int'l sales: Wanda Vision
Prod: Martin Bardi
Scr: Pablo Solarz
Cinematography: Hugo Colace
Prod des: Margarita Jusid
Ed: Mohamed Rajid
Music: Nicolas Sorin
Main cast: Antonio Benedictis, Javier Lombardo, Javiera Bravo, Anibal Maldonado