We began the evening with West Bank Story, a short film musical by Ari Sendel that won the Academy award for Best Short Film in 2007. As the title suggests, it’s an Israeli-Palestinian mash-up of West Side Story, which means it’s essentially Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. And singing. And falafel.
The appropriately-named David (an Israeli soldier) and the appropriately-named Fatima (a cashier at the Hummus Hut) are secretly in love. Well, secretly because they’ve never actually met but shyly make googly eyes at each other. But when Fatima tries to chase down a customer with some leftovers, she fortuitously bumps into David and of course their dreams are realized – it’s true love forever.
But, there’s a problem. The Capulets, who run the Hummus Hut, are engaged in an ages-old feud with the Jets, who own and operate the next-door Kosher King. When the Capulets sabotage a Jetish food-making machine (by throwing a rock. no less), the Jets naturally respond by erecting a wall between the two restaurants. Well, push comes to shove, and while physically rejecting David’s attempts at peace, the Capulets accidentally burn down their own Hummus Hut. The Jets dance in the streets until a stray ember burns down the Kosher King as well. The next morning, oblivious customers come to the wreckage looking for food, and out of the salvaged food and equipment from the two restaurants the Jets and the Capulets are able to put together enough (through COOPERATION) to feed the people. Awwww! (Sniff!)
The long-ish short was followed by a (relatively) short feature – Bolivia by Adrián Caetano. To the best of my ability to recall, Bolivia takes place over the course of only three days – and (at least if we take a bit of license) we can even identify those three days: On the first day of the film, a fight is being telecast in the restaurant where it takes place, and it’s Mike Tyson against Evander Holyfield. Since those two fighters only fought twice, the film took place either on November 9-11 of 1996 or on June 28-30 of 1997. Or I could just be reading WAAAAY too much into it.
Freddy, the main character in the film, is pretty much a walking contradiction. We meet him, penniless, just as he has taken a job in a Buenos Aires restaurant as a sausage cook. It’s clear that he is an immigrant to Argentina and does not have the proper documentation to work there, but the owner (who has a history of taking on illegals to work for low wages) doesn’t really mind. Freddy is kind, soft-spoken, gentle, thoughtful, and intelligent, and he’s only in this tight spot in the first place because the nasty American government burned down the illegal Bolivian coca field where he used to work. But, you know, honest work is hard to find in Bolivia, so there is that.
Freddy has come to Argentina seeking differently dishonest work (there’s that whole “papers” issue), leaving his wife and children behind. He spends 2/3 of his first day’s salary (on advance, no less) calling them on a pay phone to illustrate his devotion to them.
Then, at the end of day 2, he further illustrates his devotion to his family by having hot sweaty sex with the waitress Rosa. But I get ahead of myself.
Anyway, it turns out that everybody has problems in this part of Buenos Aires: Freddy is a poor immigrant whom nobody pities due to his dark Bolivian skin. Rosa is…well, she’s lazy and kind of a tart. The shopowner Enrique has customers asking for credit and a clock that never seems to work. Regular patron Oso is named after a bear, is hooked on Freddy’s coke, and has so many money problems he never pays his tab and is on the verge of having his car repossessed. He hopes to get some help from regular patron Mercado, who seems to have an in with the car people, but Mercado is overly concerned about his impending divorce and the upcoming custody battle for his kids. Mercado’s regular patron buddy Hector is gay, and nobody else around is, including apple-of-his-eye Freddy. And regular patron Marcelo…well, he suffers from being Oso’s friend, which is bad enough.
Anyway, on the first night, Freddy gets shaken down by the cops. Since he doesn’t have work papers, he cleverly claims that he doesn’t have a job, and repeats over and over that he’s just visiting relatives who live “over there” until the cops leave him alone. Could have been worse. On the second night, as I said, Rosa spurns her regular appointments with Marcelo in order to get a little variety into her life. And on the third night, while still at the restaurant, Oso gets drunk and launches into a racebaiting spree against Freddy. Freddy tries to ignore it, but it gets physical and Freddy busts up Oso’s nose.
Oso deserved it, of course, but he was drunk and sometimes drunk people don’t really recognize when they’re wrong. For instance, sometimes, instead of apologizing and saying that they’ll sleep it off and try to make up in the morning, they instead threaten to kill the guy that punched them in the nose. Then, when their buddy (sometimes named Marcelo, for instance) tries to drive them off, they pull a gun out of the glovebox and shoot the guy that punched them in the nose right in the chest, and he dies on the spot. I know that kind of thing happens sometimes, because that’s exactly what happened in the movie.
Then, the movie kind of ends. Sure, there’s Rosa talking to the landlord as he clears the stuff out of Freddy’s room (he paid in advance, so the landlord is covered) and there’s Enrique putting up another “cook wanted” sign, but that’s really just denouement.
So that was like…the entire plot of the movie. Squeaky-clean family guy is forced to leave his job cultivating drugs, and moves to the big city where he cheats on his wife for no apparent reason then gets shot after a meaningless argument. I don’t really think it was supposed to be a tale of Friday-the-13th-style karma (where the surest way to get killed by Jason is to engage in the illicity of teen sex), but if it’s not a morality tale, then what is it? The movie’s too short and sparse to make us care about the guy, and he really does kind of squander any good will he built up with the premeditated Rosa thing. The Passion Of The Morally Ambiguous Guy? I believe that the director really truly cared about this movie. I’m just not sure I did.