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El Perro (2004)

Chien (El perro), Bombón

Directed by:

Carlos Sorin

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 95 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Country: Argentina, Spain

At age 52, kind-hearted, mild-mannered Juan 'Coco' Villegas (Juan Villegas) has few prospects. His wife left him two decades ago, he lost his mechanic's job last year, no-one wants to buy his hand-carved knives, and there is hardly room for him anymore in the home of his married daughter (Mariela Díaz). Yet after helping a woman whose car has broken down, his generosity is repaid with the gift of a pedigree hunting dog (called variously 'Le Chien' and 'Bombón'), whose potential value both as a prize-winner in dog shows and as a stud animal is quickly spotted by opportunistic trainer Walter Donado (Walter Donado). Soon Juan, whose hopes had for so long been running on empty, is back on the road with his independent-minded canine, entering a local dog show, meeting the fortune-telling singer Susana (Rosa Valsecchi), and able once again to imagine a future where he is no longer lonely, emasculated and obsolete.

Filmed in Patagonia, the arid, featureless flatlands of southernmost Argentina – a harsh landscape that reflects both the desolation and the resilience of the principal character – Carlos Sorin's 'Bombón (El Perro)' is a bittersweet tale of dreams dashed and good rewarded. The film's ending, in which an aging man and his dog set off together on new travels, their lust for life fully restored, is certainly a crowd pleaser, but it would not be half as satisfying but for the misery and dejection which Juan first has to endure with his characteristic calm. For in this deeply moral, almost theological film (in which a sticker on Juan's pick-up truck reads “God is Love”), Juan's resurrection seems the well-deserved prize for a life of kindness and humility in an otherwise dog-eat-dog world. There are, however, few other films of a religious bent which give so much comic prominence to an animal's flagging libido – for this is equally a fable about how the Dogo Argentino got its hump, with Bombón's sexual despondency mirroring the impotence of his master in the face of desperate economic realities.

Juan Villegas and Walter Donado, both non-professional actors, are extraordinarily believable as the (fictive) characters who bear their names. Villegas is stoic, charmingly naïve and brimming with pathos (his face in itself a landscape of experience and quiet suffering), while Donado is menacingly ebullient but, like Juan, nourished by dreams long-past. Yet despite Donado's best efforts to impose himself into the frame, this buddy movie is really about the relationship between Juan and 'man's best friend' – and Gregorio, who is one of the few professionals to appear in the film, quickly establishes dominance as Bombón, making this film, as much as its titular dog, a prize-winner.

It's Got: Believable performances (both human and canine), bleak landscapes, and gentle humour.

It Needs: A rabies shot.

Alternatives:

Amores perros, Best in Show, Historias Mínimas

Summary

A bittersweet tale of dreams dashed and kindness rewarded in dog-eat-dog Patagonia.

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