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The Dark Humor of Pablo Larrain

 

The Chilean director Pablo Larrain has become one of the true unique voices in contemporary Latin American cinema. In 2008, his ambitious debut TONY MANERO debuted at the New York Film Festival and became an international hit on the film festival circuit. Adopting the name of the lead character played by John Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, the film told a darkly comic tale of a serial killer in the turbulent 1970s who is obsessed with the musical film and enters a look-alike contest to boot. The lead actor, Alfredo Castro, won several international film awards for his acting, and the director was hailed and won awards for his debut effort.

 

This year, the New York Film Festival is welcoming back the director with his follow up film POST MORTEM, a Chile/Mexico/Germany co-production. Also deftly mixing the darkly comic with the political, the film tells the story of an autopsy clerk who tries to woo a dancer away from her Popular Front boyfriend, as the democratically elected government of socialist Salvador Allende is about to be crushed by a brutal military coup. The film had its European premieres at the Venice and San Sebastian Film Festivals before coming to New York this week.

Alfredo Castro again makes a compelling presence as the mortician who  finally decides to act on his long-suppressed feelings for across-the-street neighbor Nancy (Antonia Zegers), a cabaret dancer fired from her gig at the local theater. Theirs is a  mismatched relationship that is reflective of the chaos that reigns around them. Larraín employs ultra-widescreen cinematography for revealing close-ups and tracking shots that  generate a nasty thrill. The humor is jet black and the peformances distant but strong. With his latest film, which has yet to find North American distribution, this filmmaker demonstrates that he has a unique eye and a vigorous technique that match his often causic humor.

Sandy Mandelberger, Festival Dailies Editor

 

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