Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for nudity, language. In Spanish with English subtitles
Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
It’s no wonder that this poignant, introspective Argentinean gem was among the five international films nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. The only mystery is why it took the slow boat to get to North America.
Forty-two year old Rafael (Ricardo Darin), restaurateur and workaholic, has reached the end of his rope. He struggles to stay afloat in the swirling maelstrom of Argentina’s financial woes, barely recognizes his pre-teen daughter from a former marriage, and is losing his zippity-doo-da for sexy young girlfriend Nati (Natalia Verbeke). Adding insult to injury, Rafael is shamelessly neglecting his Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother, Norma (Norma Aleandro), whom he hasn’t visited in over a year. It’s time to cash in and drop out – leaving everyone and everything behind.
A visit from his gracefully aging papa changes everything. Nino (Hector Alterio) drags Rafael to the nursing home for a visit with mama, and announces that he wants to begin arrangements for a ceremony to re-marry his Norma with the lavish church service she always wanted.
This is full-blown mid-life crisis, Latin-style. Histrionics, guilt, and a critical medical problem ignite a chain of events that alter Rafael’s universe for good. Subtle moments delight: the rebirth of a faltering romance through an apartment-building intercom, relentless debate regarding the perfect tiramisu, a failing grandmother’s reunion with her timid granddaughter.
What to say about a film that offers it all? Passion, melodrama, sorrow, laughter and tears cascade over the screen effortlessly, wringing out emotions like rivulets from a soaking sponge. The communal thread is the enduring love of Nino for his beloved Norma, who is virtually lost to him by the ravages of dementia. His devotion is a life lesson for all – stirring, tender, and forever.