Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Malta con Huevo directed by Cristóbal Valderrama

Rob Bartlett reviews Cristóbal Valderrama's Malta con Huevo.
Imagine a hot Santiago day. The smog is cloying, stifling. Lethargy washes over you with every warm breath of wind. Your throat is parched. You need refreshment, an energy boost, a pick-me-up. You need Malta con Huevo.
This is how you get it: take 1 liter of cold Malta beer, 1 or 2 eggs and sugar to taste. Blend. Drink.

It is October in the city. The Papi Ricky soap opera has finished, you are bored and you don’t know what to do. You can’t face Transantiago, and anyway, your Metro Bip! card is out of funds. Yet an idle curiosity is beating back the anesthetizing effects of the office. You want stimulation, contentment, entertainment. You need Malta con Huevo - the movie.

Malta con Huevo is the first feature film from Chilean director Cristóbal Valderrama and looks set to be a big hit. It tells the story of Vladimir and Jorge, two former schoolmates who are diametrically opposed in almost every way, except in an affinity for the eponymous drink.

Vladimir is a waster, a scrounger, an artist. He lives for the moment and for women.
Jorge is a controlled, independent scientist. He plans for the future and for himself.
Following one chance meeting, the pair agrees to move in together, along with Jorge’s capricious, materialistic and sexually adventurous lover Rocío. The arrangement seems perfect for Jorge. The house satisfies the consumerist desires of his girlfriend, as well as helping him towards one of his own longed-for objectives.

The arrangement also seems perfect for Vladimir. He has just been kicked out of his flat for not paying his rent and his attempt to move back into the bed of a former girlfriend is thwarted by the current boyfriend. His bright yellow Citroën car, loaded with all his worldly possessions, does not make for an ideal home. And even better, during a house-warming party, some of Rocío’s sexual adventurousness starts to be directed his way.
Director Valderrama handles their shared story in a simple but highly effective and amusing way. He successfully blurs genre boundaries, not by merger, rather by juxtaposition.

Initially we see events from Vladimir’s point of view, sharing his prejudices and perspectives on the house party, on Jorge and Rocío, and on football results. As viewers we are therefore as confused as he is when things appear to come in the wrong order. We are seemingly traveling through time, entering the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. What is happening? We don’t know, he doesn’t know.

Vladimir wants to find out though, so he goes to meet the loner Fedora, an aspiring witch. Although she has never met him, he had previously found her threatening when they met for the second time at a liquor store they both frequent. When he accidentally kills her black cat, her enmity is assured. As ever, a Malta con Huevo helps to calm him down. Doesn’t it?

Then we see the same events from Jorge’s angle, with the disparity giving rise to plenty of amusement as well as ensuring the audience has a clear understanding of events. Still, Jorge’s mentality is not quite as rational as he would like to believe. His deluded opinion of himself as a dominant, forceful personality suffers from the constant subversive influence of his broken arm, sustained at the hands of Rocío and her emasculating, sadomasochistic sexuality. From his standpoint, events that were fantastical from Vladimir’s perspective morph into black comedy. And the suspense starts to build like any good thriller.

These are two people clearly on a collision course. The owner of the liquor store wants one of them dead and why is there so much cabling on the floor in the shared house? There is only one love interest, right? What about the shallow grave in Fedora’s back garden? And why do the eggs for the Malta con Huevo have holes in them?

The film has received a very positive critical response in Chile, winning an award at the Northern Chile International Film Festival and expected to gain further attention at the ongoing Valdivia festival. Even the normally reserved daily La Tercera told readers that the film “will make you laugh out loud.”

Indeed, laughter seems to have been a driving force in the production process. Director Valderrama, when questioned by El Mercurio as to any didactic message, rubbished the idea, saying “We are not trying to make a speech, change the world or establish a new morality. We were just having a bit of a laugh.”

But that does not mean the film should be seen as lightweight in an artistic sense. There is a very well thought out aesthetic to both the plot and the mise-en-scène, with Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, particularly his 1986 work “Matador”, seemingly an important reference point.

On the other hand it would be wrong to overstate foreign influences, as Malta con Huevo has a very strong Chilean identity. The film is not only written and directed by a Chilean, funded by Chilean institutions, and produced by the Chilean company Cinepata, it was shot on the streets of Santiago, uses young Chilean actors and technicians and is peppered with “Chilenismos” (Chilean slang).

In common with much of Latin American Cinema, Chilean features are currently proving very popular. Films such as “La Casa de la Remolienda” have done well at the box-office and new releases, such as “Radio Corazón”, being well received.

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