The Distinguished Citizen: No one is a prophet in their own land
by Gonzalo Suárez
- VENICE 2016: An Argentinian author based in Spain returns to his home country after winning the Nobel Prize in the new film by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat
Latin American cinema is back in competition at the Venice Film Festival after taking home the Golden and Silver Lions at the last edition (the Venezuelan title From Afar and Argentina’s The Clan [+see also:
film profile], respectively). This year, the Chilean titles The Blind Christ [+see also:
film profile] and Jackie are vying for the prize in the official competition, as are two Latin American co-productions with Europe: the Mexican movie The Untamed [+see also:
film profile] and the film we shall cover here, Argentina’s The Distinguished Citizen [+see also:
film profile], by duo Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, who have been active for years.
The distinguished citizen alluded to by the title is Daniel Mantovani, a native of the small rural town of Salas, in Argentina. Mantovani lives in a mansion, surrounded by books, technology and designer furniture, where he gives his publishers the runaround when they ask him if he is writing anything new and turns down invitations to activities and events willy-nilly, shortly after winning the very award that has the most potential to bring him into harmony with the rest of the system: the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mantovani’s literary works are unique in that they are set in Salas and based on its inhabitants, even though it’s been over 30 years since the man of letters has been back to the town where he grew up. But all this will change when he receives an invitation from the mayor to be dubbed a distinguished citizen.
For his triumphant return to the home of his cherished memories, Mantovani forgoes all of the usual protocols. This gives rise to many outlandish scenes that underline the huge gap between the cultured, refined and loquacious city-dwelling author, and the humble, ignorant, coarse and down-to-earth provincial townsfolk. Mantovani’s programme of activities in Salas immerses the writer in reality, just as it immerses the viewer in fits of laughter. However, what initially looks set to be a dark comedy veers off first towards drama territory, and then towards tragedy: behind the "Nobel Prize" label lurks an old friend, a former student, a memorable ex-partner… and behind the applause of his fellow citizens are people of flesh and blood, but few words, who can’t always manage to understand how one of their kind could abandon them and rise to stardom by portraying them so unflatteringly in his novels.
Almost miraculously, the directors manage to keep this artistic cocktail afloat upon the shoulders of Óscar Martínez, who is gloomy and witty in equal measure, and who makes the very most of the lines and ravings he is gifted by the screenplay - which was, at the end of the day, conceived as a parable, in more ways than one. Despite the pretentiousness we might detect from the shallowness and the explosiveness of its musings and fun and games, the overall result turns out to be extremely entertaining, as demonstrated by the applause it garnered during its press screening.
(Translated from Spanish)