Dir: Carlos Sorin. Arg. 2006. 98mins.
A natural crowdpleaserwhich could easily follow on the tracks of his previous film, Bombon: El Perro,Carlos Sorin's TheRoad To San Diego shows him to be that rare film-maker:one who still has some faith in human nature.
Anyone who went for hisshaggy dog tale last time round will be delighted to find him in top form again,judging by this closely observed, gently ironic and often exhilarating picture aboutan unemployed lumberjack who decides that a tree stump resembles his reveredidol, the footballer Diego Armando Maradona.
Working again withnon-professional actors deployed as a series of colourful characters, Sorin's observant eye fills every sequence with myriaddetails, rendered with humour and immense sympathy for all God's creations,men, animals and nature alike. Given the right treatment this very arthouse item could easily break out, without much effort,to reach much wider audiences, moreso given its leadcharacter's object of worship.
Tati Benitez (Ignacio Benitez) is a non-hero bydefinition, neither handsome, nor clever nor particularly resourceful. Just sackedfrom his job cutting trees, he makes a living of sorts by picking pieces ofwood in the forest for an old sculptor, then taking a percentage when theartisan sells the statuette to the occasional tourist.
But that, along with his wife(Paola Rotera) and children, are incidental in Tati's life. Rather his focus is the legendary footballer Maradona, who he saw only once, many years ago, when the Argentinian international was with Boca Juniors. Since thenTati has collected every bit of information availableabout the star, including every detail about every goal he has ever scored, evenhow much his children weighed when they were born.
Tati's friends, mockumentarilyinterviewed in the introduction, offer their own versions of their strange pal,as they taunt him amicably every once in a while. Naturally, when they hear onthe radio that Maradona is in hospital with cardiactroubles, they rush to tell Tati. He, with the blessingof the local fortune teller and some money from his wife, sets out on his pilgrimageto take the natural replica of his idol to the star himself.
Travelling by bus, hitchingrides on trucks and even riding on an ambulance carrying a dead body, Tati meets all sorts along the way, some sceptical abouthis mission, others supportive, but none arrogant nor dismissive. Even JuanVillegas, who played the lead in Bonbon, pops up as a shop owner.
Tati covers the last leg of the way in the company of Waguinho (Carlos Wagner La Bella), a long-haul Braziliantruck driver and hearty bear of a man, who may prefer Peleto Maradona but still offers support.
Though it could be regardedas a light, inoffensive romp around the Argentiniancountryside - or, more seriously, a gallery of stereotypes - The Road To SanDiego underlines the urge for people to believe and adore something thatseems bigger than life, be it a saint or a footballer.
This ecumenical-tingedargument takes an ironic turn at one point, when the fortune teller insiststhat everything in life has a reason. Meanwhile the evangelical pastor claimseverything is random and the Catholic priest squirms uneasily, eventuallyplacing himself somewhere between the two.
Ignacio Benitez, who plays Tati almost like a holy simpleton, has that great cinematicquality of reacting rather than acting (to use a John Wayne definition). But heis not really the lead, since his role is mostly as a catalyst for introducing therest of the characters he encounters. Casting works perfectly, since Sorin never asks any of his non-professional players to doanything out of tune with their own characters.
The real star performance isWagner La Bella, whose Brazilian driver is blessed with enormous reservoirs of energyand charm. The discovery that he is a producer in real life makes one wonderwhether he has not missed his true calling.
Hugo Colace'scamera is present everywhere, capturing and highlighting the smallest detailsin the background. Mohamed Rajid's cutting ensuresthey are inserted just at the right moment while Nicolas Sorin'ssimple tunes quite effectively reach full bloom towards the end.s
20th Century Fox
Carlos Wagner La Bella
Maria Marta Alvez
Miguel Gonzalez Colman
Hermano Otto Mosdien