English Title: The Distinguished Citizen
Original Title: El ciudadano ilustre
Country: Argentina, Spain
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Writers: Andrés Duprat
Music: Toni M. Mir
Cinematography: Mariano Cohn
Argentinian director duo Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn’s fourth feature, a satirical dark comedy premiered in Venice’s main competition this year, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is simply riveting, uncompromising and entertaining to the hilt.
Our protagonist is a laureate of Nobel Prize in Literature, the fictional Argentinian writer Daniel Mantovani (Martínez), the movie opens with him accepting the award in the regal ceremony, and his forthright but true-to-self acceptance speech politely jeers at the fact that he is not much a fan of monarchy and dreads that it will portend the waning of his creativity, which unfortunately transpires to be true. Five years later, still stuck in the writer’s block after being crowned the top honor, Daniel, who lives as an expatriate most of his life, eyes an invitation from his hometown, Salas, a small village in Argentina, among his swamped schedule, he is invited to accept “The Distinguished Citizen” title of the town, a place where he hasn’t returned over 40 years, not even for his father’s funeral.
Why now is the right time to go? The more practical motive is to look for inspiration so that he can bring an end to the maddening dry spell, and Salas has never failed to proffer him that, most of his distinguished works benefit from his past experiences in that dreadful town. Daniel intends to go there alone incognito, which ends in vain right after embarking on the plane, upon arrival, a familiar taste of backwater desultoriness which has eluded him for too long, generates wry and knowing giggles, and the effect doesn’t ameliorated by the casual-dressing mayor (Vincente) and the ensuing celebration of a returning national treasure among close-knit townsfolk.
Daniel reunites with his old-time friend Antonio (Brieva) and Irene (Frigerio), the girlfriend he left four decades ago, now they are married and have a daughter Julia (Chavanne, who will try anything to get out of the jerkwater milieu, even if she has to sleep with an older man who once was her mother’s old flame), but discord starts to disrupt his triumphant homecoming, out of their excessive pride of the town, some get peeved for Daniel’s negative portrayal of the characters in his books, which are based on real-life denizens of Salas; bureaucratic interference, small-minded bigotry, sex-ensnarement all emerge onto the surface and wrong-foot his tranquil sojourn, Daniel will also dishearteningly find out that Salas hasn’t progressed in all these years, to a point where his own safety will be hung by a thread when jealousy, hostility, idiocy and rancor are all hiked up, can the distinguished citizen dodge the bullet in the highly suspenseful finale? A debt he must pay to his birthplace, the main wellspring of his intellectual works.
Duprat-Cohn duo dexterously basks in Daniel’s self-seeking mare’s nest which is deliciously peppered with gallows humor, poker-face eccentricity and delightful plot-twists. Their leading actor Oscar Martínez, fully embodies and balances Daniel’s academic finesse, provoked exasperation and emotional ambivalence, unsurprisingly and deservingly bags the Volpi Cup for BEST ACTOR in Venice ’73.
Dady Brieva dazzles in his Manichaean contrasts of chumminess and insidiousness, not to mention his bizarre dance movements, spontaneously hysterical and cringe-inducing, and Manuel Vicente’s smooth persona as the easy-going mayor is wonderfully approachable and diverting, whereas Andrea Frigerio’s mellow former lover is the only beacon signals a faint hope and nostalgia, but ineffectually dims in the context of the silly but dangerous game played among provincially macho men.
No one can choose his or her birthplace where most of us spend our formative years, and once fled, we’d better not go back, because there is always some past bogeyman trying to lure you back, hunt you down and tear you apart, that is what called “homesick entrapment”, the bond can not be severed, but should be buried in a safe place in our memory, only occasionally pops up to remind us who we are.