Always a friend to Argentine cinema, the AFI Fest this year presents Castro by Bueno Aires Film University professor Alejo Moguillansky. There’s a an exciting movement in Argentina, spearheaded by the group formed around Mariano Llinás (he of the terrific Historias Extraordinarias, edited by Moguillansky), and working quite outside the traditional channels of government funding. Castro is exemplary in this; inspired by Santiago’s 1969 Borges-derived Invasión and adapted from Beckett’s novel Murphy (in the same way Rivette adapts Balzac and Tourneur – ie giving new meaning to the word “loosely”) the source is an excuse to kick-start a movie vying for the title of fastest-paced-of-all-time.
It begins as it means to go on, with a woman and two men running helter-skelter through the streets in pursuit of a third man, and the pace barely lets up; when the characters aren’t running (and they do so even when there’s no apparent need), their dialogue is fired off almost as fast as humanly possible. The film was built through improvisations, which no doubt contributed to the dexterity of the spoken scenes, as well as creating a tightened modulation to the choreography of the chases (they’re by no means simply running) as well as, presumably, sparking the large number of great little throwaway gags which pepper the film.
The man being chased is called Castro. He’s being pursued by a mysterious gang of four, including his almost-ex-wife (relishably mean, she requires literal ass-licking) whose motives and relationships are unclear, and who are forever sending one another notes and messages (I’m getting the feeling the Argentines are fond of Rivette). Castro is madly in love with Celia, the only character who strolls (pursued with an amusingly conspicuous umbrella signal system) but she wants him to get a job. This presents Castro with a philosophical problem: if he gets a job he will no longer be the person she loves now, and to earn a living, he declares, is to waste one’s life away. He gets one anyway, via a fortuitous stranger, a job that makes no sense but which does graduate the physical freneticism to a crazy game of musical cars. But Castro’s existential crisis must come to a head, and he quits in amusingly appropriate fashion to usher in the almost effectively bleak finale. Except the shift in tone has not quite been earned by the lightness of all that has gone before.
For all its kinetic energy – with perfectly apt silents-type piano accompaniment – the film doesn’t amount to much more. The breakneck pace is startling, the real-street camerawork extremely deft (though shot on some pretty ugly video format) and the whole project is planned and executed with skill and humour; the spurious plot indicates that it is a film that is an excuse for itself, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the end cannot finally reach quite beyond the feel of a most enjoyable exercise.
Get some idea from the trailer.