Film Reviews

Young Life Is Beautiful

The recently released Argentine film Yepeto has a curious timelessness about it. Although one of the characters lugs a laptop computer to the cafés and bars where she composes poetry, the central themes that drive the plot distracted Plato and Shakespeare centuries ago. Which is more beautiful: the athletic body of a strapping youth, or the carefully crafted strophes of a sonnet? What has more value: the effervescence of life, or the eternity of literature?

Yepeto is an ailing academic and novelist in his fifties. The character is played by Ulises Dumont, whose performance won the Best Actor award at last fall's Cita Festival of Latin-American Cinema in Biarritz, France. Adapted from a play by pivotal Argentine playwright Roberto Cossa and directed by veteran Eduardo Calcagno, Yepeto also garnered the grand prize and the audience prize for Best Film.

The plot rests upon a bizarre love triangle unwittingly constructed by the effete artist when he befriends Antonio, a seventeen-year-old track star who fears that his girlfriend, Cecilia, a student of Yepeto, has fallen for her paunchy, balding professor. Antonio meets the writer when the young man confronts him about poems Cecilia has written. Played by the bright-eyed Nicolas Cabre and Malena Figo, the lovers force Yepeto to face the unwelcome conclusion that his own beauty can be found only in words, not in the flesh. Unable to resist his attraction for the teenagers, the writer rankles when they reciprocate by revering him as a monument or coddling him as an old man.

Although the themes aspire to be as universal as verse, the film's wry humor is uniquely porteño. The buses, subways, and old British trains of Buenos Aires provide the backdrop for the unique mixture of arrogance and self-loathing cultivated along the Río Plata. The self-absorbed Yepeto has marvelous fights with his long-suffering but feisty lover-typist (memorably portrayed by Alejandra Flechner). "Watch out," the cranky genius warns a cheeky fellow passenger who groped his assistant, for all the bus to hear, "that ass comes with strings attached." Of his well-meaning but tedious bunkmate during a brief stay in the hospital, he quips, "They are going to operate on his clichés."

Yepeto examines the tension between the hard work necessary to be original and the often-necessarily clichéd spontaneity inspired by passion. The opening shot focuses on the puffy hand of the author clenched tightly around a pen as he scribbles a series of words describing the most excited state of emotion. Passionately, Yepeto writes, then scratches it out. Fiercely. Fervently. Deliriously. Shit, he exclaims finally, tossing the paper aside. No one moves more quickly to shoot down the lofty pretensions of the film than the protagonist himself.

When Yepeto utters the expletive, the camera pulls back to reveal the golden light of the book-lined studio where he passes his life. In large part the cinematography reinforces the novelist's efforts to create a hermetically sealed world of words. Even the outdoor shots suggest the universe ends at the edges of the frame. Yepeto offers the viewer temporary sanctuary as well, suggesting that if the right word cannot hold death at bay, at least it can make the sorrow of life more bittersweet.

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Celeste Fraser Delgado