Dir/scr: Enrique Fernandez, Cesar Charlone. Urug/Bra. 2007. 97 mins.
Taking place in a poverty-stricken area between Brazil and Uruguay and shot on location with documentary-style grittiness, it is the kind of stuff that festivals concerned with social issues and the Third World should have a look at and Latin American minorities abroad will probably find much to appreciate in, but beyond that, niche arthouse programming is the best bet it can hope for.
The script uses as its departure point the actual trip taken by Pope John Paul II in 1988 through the Latin American continent and imagines a sequence of events that might have taken place at that time (though they didn't actually occur, as a pre-credits title announces before the beginning of the film). In the course of that visit, the Pope got as far as Melo (incidentally, Fernandez' hometown) and the script embroiders on the preparations for the event that should have brought to the poor people of the town not only the spiritual blessings of the Holy Church, but also a few urgently needed financial benefits. Needless to say, by the end the poor are even poorer. But in true Latin American fashion, they still hope for a miracle that will provide salvation.
Beto (Troncoso), a small-time smuggler, hears the media report that tens of thousands will be descending upon Melo to attend the Pope's Holy Mass, and has a brainstorm. Unlike his neighbours, who are putting all their savings into chorizos, burgers, pastries and sweets they are going to feed all these hungry strangers, he will provide the incoming masses with a place to relieve themselves, after having done with their eating. A public toilet is money in the bank, or so he thinks, and to build such a luxurious facility, he indebts himself and fights with his wife Carmen (Mendez) to give him the meagre pot she has been putting aside for the tuition of their adolescent daughter, Silvia (Ruiz).
Finally he even strikes a secret deal with the devil, local customs officer, Meleyo (Lence), to allow him more trips across the border, each trip bringing him closer to the completion of his project. To no avail, of course, because once shocked back into his senses, he understands the terrible moral digression he has been guilty of and turns his back on his undesired partner.
If earlier references are required, better forget Whisky (the brilliant Uruguayan entry in Cannes ' 2004 UCR) or City Of God (on which Charlone was the DoP and Fernando Meirelles, one of the co-producers here, directed). Using for their cast a melange of pros and amateurs who turn out to be surprisingly effective and homogenous, Fernandez and Charlone have achieved something of their own - a pseudo-documentary that focuses on the hardships and penuries of their characters with such visual and dramatic intensity that its irony is often pushed aside. The harsh quality of the image and the dilapidated shape of Melo itself are a constant reminder that this is no joke and laughing at it is never an easy matter.
Bavaria Film International