Miami International Film Festival

2002 Week two: Cuba, Spain, Iceland, Poland, U.S.A., and more

Playing on Friday, February 28, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 1, at 11:00 a.m. at the Regal South Beach Cinema.

Lugares Comunes Directed by Adolfo Aristaráin; Argentina, 2002

A number of profound ideas are woven through a simple story in Adolfo Aristaráin's Lugares Comunes. In Buenos Aires a white-haired, left-wing professor, Fernando Robles, works with his students, all educators-in-training, and charges them with high ideals: "Awaken in your students the pain of lucidity." Life may be an exhilarating journey of discovery, but it is also cruel, as Robles can testify from recent experience. Moments earlier he was called into the office of his superior and summarily dismissed from his post owing to the ongoing Argentine economic crisis, which has struck the university. With millions of younger people also out of work, his firing effectively means the end of his career.

The Sea: A contemporary King Lear with too many subplots
The Sea: A contemporary King Lear with too many subplots
Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here
Washington Heights: Urban Latin life is more than drug deals, but not here

Robles keeps the news a secret but his beloved wife Liliana quickly notices his sudden change of mood and the truth is revealed. He resumes smoking, despite his emphysema, and knocks back double whiskeys while he continues to work on his writing. She's worried about his health but hopes their upcoming trip to visit their son Carlos in Madrid will ease his mind. Once there, Carlos offers a plan: He will bring his parents to live in Spain and offers to subsidize them. He's a prosperous computer entrepreneur, though he was once a struggling writer who tired of driving a cab to support his art. But Robles, who fiercely guards his personal integrity, rejects the offer in a fury. He's livid that Carlos abandoned his artistic calling merely for the money of a job he hates.

The parents return to Argentina and the rift with Carlos is patched up, but soon the reality of their predicament hits home. They must sell their flat for a less expensive farm in the countryside. Robles moves to the farm with some reluctance, but he carries his ideals with him. He refuses to be treated with deference by the caretaker's family. He raises the caretaker's salary and gives him title to his little house. He calls the farm "1789" in honor of the French Revolution. "It called for liberty, equality, and fraternity," Robles intones. "I intend to implement it." He begins to shape his grand vision, but time is running out.

Aristaráin directs with a simple assurance, wisely choosing to let his veteran cast take the focus. The ensemble -- Arturo Puig as Carlos, Carlos Santamaría as Robles's friend and lawyer Pedro, and especially Mercedes Sampietro as Liliana -- couldn't be better. Federico Luppi as Robles is nothing short of superb, capturing the character's gruff, no-nonsense demeanor that masks a profoundly romantic, heroic soul, "a walking tango, sentimental and corny."

Lugares Comunes takes the very topical tale of one couple's struggle with the economic crisis in their country and uses it as the basis for exploration of deeper questions. How does one face aging with dignity? To what extent should a person stifle personal beliefs in order to succeed in the working world? Is survival a better measure of success than living fully even for one moment? Such important questions give this quiet film significant resonance and depth. It compares well, in tone and filmmaking craft, to some of Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru and Drunken Angel, which are also character studies set in contexts of personal and social upheaval. Like those classics, Lugares Comunes is a thoughtful, very adult film. -- Ronald Mangravite

Playing on Friday, February 28, at 7:00 p.m. at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, 174 E Flagler St, 305-374-2444; on Saturday, March 1, 7:00 p.m. at Sunrise Cinemas Intracoastal, 3701 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach, 305-949-0064.

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