This was an enjoyable screening event. As part of the ‘Cine en Construcción’ strand organised by Instituto Cervantes, the director Pablo Fendrik was in attendance and after the screening (again a film of only 70 mins) he conducted a lively and entertaining Q & A in English. He is clearly a talented director and if he ever finds that he can’t sell his films he has potential as a performer in a one-man show.
El asaltante is a slight but very engaging narrative that intrigues the viewer and raises several questions about how people live in Buenos Aires. The film opens with a middle-aged man (see the image above – although the film is in colour) entering a school in the city rather furtively. What follows is the gradual breakdown of what was clearly a carefully planned ‘operation’. The camera follows the central character like a limpet in a series of long takes – a masterpiece of handheld camerawork and careful choreography. At the end of the film we do finally learn the identity of the protagonist – but not why he carries out the operation, although we do get some clues.
In the Q & A, Fendrik revealed that the story was based on a real incident he had read about in a local newspaper. The perpetrator was never caught and Fendrik thought this was an ideal basis for a film that could be shot and edited very quickly on a low budget. He was certainly correct on that score and aided by excellent cinematography and a totally convincing performance by Arturo Goetz as ‘the man’ he has produced an attractive little film. My questions to him after the screening focused on the short length of the film and whether it received a release in Argentina.
Fendrik told us that after screening at Cannes in 2007 during International Critics Week he had received a lot of interest. Distributors had urged him to shoot an extra ten minutes but he was adamant that he just wanted to shoot the story as he saw it and that he wasn’t prepared to change. Pressed on how the film was distributed in Argentina he told us that it was screened as the first film to be shown in a new specialised cinema in Buenos Aires but that he had refused an offer to screen at a ‘museum cinema’ because the other films on the programme were too ‘arty’. I admire someone who sticks to his guns but it’s a shame if more people don’t get to see this director’s work. And work he does. He returned to Cannes in 2008 with a second feature, Blood Appears, again with Arturo Goetz in a lead role. This co-production with France and Germany sounds far too violent for me, but Fendrik is clearly a director to look out for. El asaltante is available on a Region 1 DVD in the US.
The film’s trailer is here, but SPOILER warning, it gives away more of what happens than this review. (The music track isn’t in the film.)