Tattooed (Tatuado)

b>Argentina's Mardelplata Festival
Film Discovery

The world premiere of Eduardo Raspo's “Tattooed” (“Tatuado”) was greeted with enthusiastic response by Argentinean and international audiences. Clearly a highlight of the 20th edition of Mardelplata Film Fest, which runs March 10-20, “Tattooed” is a superb father-son melodrama that in its sharp characterization and subtle emotional tonality goes way beyond the coming-of-age and intergeneration strife genre.

Though grounded in its particular locale, “Tattooed” is an extremely enjoyable and accessible film, one that should travel well the global festival road before hitting the art house circuits. With the right positioning and marketing, an entrepreneurial American distributor could reach wider audiences than urban art patrons.

Paco (splendidly played by Nahuel Perez Biscayart, who looks a bit like the young Elijah Wood), the film's protagonist, could be described as a “Rebel With a Cause,” a teenager with a big chip on his shoulder. Living with his father, Alvaro (Luiz Ziembrowsky), who's now happily married for the second time to Viviana (Diana Lamas), he is an outsider-adolescent par excellence, a youngster in desperate search for his roots, specifically the identity of his dead mother. Deeply insecure, as most adolescents his age are, Paco is further burdened by the mysterious disappearance of his mother when he was two year old.

When the story begins, Paco has to accept that he is not the only child anymore, that in due time he'll have to compete for his father's attention with his Anna, his baby sister. Alienated from his father, who can't establish any meaningful rapport with him, Paco himself admits to being jealous.

As a sampler of the New Argentinean Cinema, “Tattooed” could be placed on the opposite pole of the spectrum from Lucretia Martel's “The Holy Child” (“La Nina Santa”), which premiered in Cannes last year and will be distributed theatrically next month by HBO/Fine Line. “The Holy Child” is a more interesting and innovative film, yet its greatest merits of ambiguity, subtlety, and spirituality, might undercut its potential commercial appeal.

In contrast, the more conventional and mainstream “Tattooed” is crafted as a classic narrative, with a clear beginning, middle, and an end, in which all the tensions and conflicts are neatly resolved. That said, “Tattooed” is an extremely accomplished film, in which every element, from the storytelling to the acting to the production values, is impressive.

Following the model of a linear text, the first reel establishes the basic personalities and dilemmas of the two central figures: Paco and his father. Screenwriters Enrique Cortes and Raspo add a third colorful individual, Paco's runaway girlfriend, Tero (Jimena Anganuzzi), thus turning the story into a triangle.

In the second and longer part, “Tattooed” assumes the shape of a road film, literally, when Alvaro, Paco, and Tero hit the road, in search of Paco's mother's roots. The father suggests beginning the trip with a visit to Paco's grandparents, who have not seen him since he was a baby. Alvaro mumbles that they had tried to contact Pico but he didn't think it was a good idea.

Not many helpful clues are offered in the first encounter, and it's clear that there would be another, solo meeting between Paco and his grandparents. Indeed, in a later meeting, the grandparents present Paco with gifts they had bought him for each of his birthdays, and with a box of his mother's precious belongings.

It is to the credit of the filmmakers that they come up with intriguing situations and interesting revelations. Hence, to everyone's surprise, it turns out that Paco's mother had been married for two years to Gaucho (Antonio Ugo), her cousin, before abandoning him for Alvaro. In a twist of fate, the film's three male figures, Paco, Alvaro, and Gaucho find themselves linked by their love for a woman, who had deserted each one of them, albeit for another reason.

The film's title refers to the tattoo on Paco's forearm, whose mysterious existence presents a key to unveiling the past of Paco's mother. The filmmakers also deserve praise for not using a flashback structure; Paco's mother, who died of terminal cancer, is never seen or heard.

As expected in such melodramas, appearances deceive, and no character is what he or she seems to be at first. This is particularly the case of Tero, who lies about her age (pretending to be older) and background (claiming both of her parents are dead).

The weakest–and only blunt–scene is a brutal confrontation between Alvaro and Tero's abusive father who smacks his daughter when he comes to claim his daughter back. Another triangle is established here, with Tero's birth father and Alvaro (who has become during the trip her surrogate father) fighting over the girl's future.

I am unfamiliar with the previous work of Eduardo Raspo, who was born in 1962, in Cordoba, and had made a number of shorts and music videos before embarking on a directorial career. He strikes me as a talented writer and director, and I am now curious to see his first feature, “Geisha” (1995), an Argentinean-Spanish co-production.