Son of the Bride

June, 2003, Comedy

Directed by:Juan José Campanella

Starring:Ricardo Darín, Héctor Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Eduardo Blanco, and Natalia Verbeke

 

Poignancy's a tough balancing act; a false move in one direction and you have the kind of easy sentimentality that takes the edge off so many otherwise good films--think of directors like Capra & Spielberg--but slip a bit in the other direction and you encounter the cold cynical tone which crept into American films in the 60's, rendering tenderness obsolete. The result frequently presents a curiously warped sensibility in solid American films-on the one hand, any attempt at sympathy has to end in tragedy to be considered "realistic"' (Kevin Spacey in American Beauty for example) or the circumstances that drive the action of the plot mustn't stop at an examination of flaw or failure, but go straight on to hopeless pain, (consider Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom). I'm not faulting these two excellent films--but why can't we find stories that occupy the much more frequently experienced middle ground? It's hard to find current filmmakers in this country taking the stuff of daily life and showing us quite normal situations in which characters grow more self- aware and accepting of their predicaments. And harder still to find that type of challenge conveyed with a knowing sense of how real people live, with absurdity and humor so intertwined with suffering and defeat.

All the more reason then, to catch films made in other countries where the mindset of the culture encourages filmmakers to take a stab at the real thing, and then to applaud loudly when they succeed. That's the case with this movie, shot on a shoe-string budget (yes, it shows a bit) in Buenos Aires with all the affection for the characters one could wish for.

The son of the title is a restaurateur in early middle age who's trying to make the best of his family's business in the face of an incomprehensible economy, (about which he can only sarcastically joke) while struggling with his commitment to the woman in his life and worrying about the decline, (in one case physical, in the other mental) of his parents. Rafael, played superbly by Ricardo Darin, star of Nine Queens, is a fully realized person--a warm, outgoing Latin conscious of his willingness to wear his heart on his sleeve -- who's also exhausted by what he perceives as responsibilities no average guy should have to bear. His journey from annoying self-absorption to realistic, rueful acceptance of his shortcomings grows seamlessly out of twin decisions the plot requires him to make; whether to continue running the restaurant his father and mother began, (in the face of a buy-out offer) and how to help his father fulfill a decades-old promise; to marry Rafael's mother in church, in a real wedding. The fact that the already married bride-to-be is a victim of Alzheimer's disease converts normal wedding preparations into tortured negotiations on a number of unanticipated issues. (The scene in which a local priest explains the ecclesiastical hurdles in such a marriage to the now harassed Rafael are deliciously amusing while simultaneously exposing the painful legalism which grips so much of today's Roman Catholic tradition).

The movie ends, as it should, with new beginnings that by no means resolve all the issues facing Rafael--but that's as it should be; this charming character ought to be returned to us again, at some point later in his eventful but not necessarily newsworthy life, to remind audiences just how compelling ordinary lives can be if presented with professional skill and honesty, and to show Americans in particular that the bittersweet moments we all experience can indeed be the stuff of absorbing, entertaining films. 

The Verdict? See it if you can, or watch for it on DVD if you must.

P.S. I saw this movie in New York; it's gone by now, but will play in Aspen, at Paepcke, on August 15th and 16th. As for Kansas City, Los Angles, San Francisco and Savannah, who knows? (On second thought, it'll probably never play in Savannah.)

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