The Owner (1997)

aka Patron(Argentina/Uruguay)

Toronto Film Festival–A light Marxist-feminist perspective informs the Argentinean-Uruguayan co-production, “The Owner,” a rather simple, if at moments also powerful, tale of revenge against sexual oppression and domineering patriarchy. Shot for the most part in black and white, this well-made historical melodrama is too slight and underdeveloped to be truly resonant, but it should play the international film fest circuit as a sampler of the new Latin American cinema.

Antenor (Walter Reyno), whom everybody calls “patron,” is the owner of vast lands in the Argentinean Pampas. Getting older, but still single, he's obsessed with having a son who will inherit his land, carry on his name, and maintain the status that he had worked so hard to achieve. Upon meeting Paula (Valentina Bassi), a beautifully alluring adolescent peasant, he's determined to marry her, though she's in love with one of his worker.

Having no choice, the poor girl consents and a loveless marriage of convenience follows. There's hardly any communication between the spouses other than intense sexual intercourse in a hysterical effort to procreate. As fate and irony would have it, Antenor gets paralyzed and, unable to speak, becomes totally dependent on his wife for his biological needs.

Gradually, Paula takes advantage of the situation, even enjoying her new authority. As soon as she gets rid of his loyal servants and workers, she begins a series of tortures that culminate in entrusting their newborn baby to Antenor and setting the whole estate on fire.

Director Jorge Rocca, who made his feature debut, “Pista de Baile,” in l993, is deft at creating moody, oppressive situations that underlie the protagonists' different class membership. There's evocative cinematography of the sparse landscape and the house, which is miles away from the next estate. For long stretches, the narrative is entirely propelled through silence and exchanges of gestures and looks; there's very little dialogue in the film.

Nonetheless, as told, the story, which is set in the l930s, is too rudimentary and too slight to have emotional resonance beyond the obvious tensions in the material. And because Paula is almost totally isolated from any human contact, the tale doesn't show the process by which she gains socio-political consciousness. Early on, Antenor and his workers talk about the uncertainty of many husbands that their children are really their own product. But the issue, which is actually a phobia, shared by many men, is never fully discussed or developed.

Under these circumstances, the well-acted picture (which should maintain in English its original title, “Patron”) comes across as an intermittently powerful vengeance-and-liberation saga.

Cast and Credits

An Aleph SA/CEMA/Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales production. Executive producer, Esteban Schroeder. Directed, written by Jorge Rocca, from a story by Abelardo Castillo. Camera (b&w, color), Daniel rodriguez Maseda; editor, Marcela Saenz; music, Lito Vitale; production design, Enrique Badaro Nadal; sound, Marcos de Aguirre. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 12, l995. Running time: 87 min.
Antenor….Walter Reyno
Paula…Valentina Bassi