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Oscar Martinez as Leonardo (Photo: BD Cine)

Written & Directed by
Daniel Burman
Produced by
Diego Dubcovsky & Burman
Released by Outsider Pictures
Spanish with English subtitles
Argentina/Spain/France/Italy. 94 min. Not Rated
 Oscar Martinez, Cecilia Roth, Arturo Goetz & Inés Efron

With Empty Nest, 35-year-old writer/director Daniel Burman concludes his trilogy about Jewish father/son relationships in Buenos Aires with a big jump past his own life experiences. After focusing on a post-adolescent in Lost Embrace and a new parent in Family Law, he sympathetically turns his gaze toward a middle-aged writer, Leonardo (Oscar Martínez), dealing with separation anxiety from his children, who have settled down overseas.

His vivacious wife Martha (an earthily exuberant Cecilia Roth of All About My Mother) revels in her new freedom. She is thrilled that she now has time for herself, to exercise, to reminisce with old school friends and make new (and younger) ones when she goes back to school. In a refreshing switch on the usual movie stereotypes, it is her husband who has trouble adjusting to impending grandparenthood, especially as he wasn’t a particularly involved father.

Leonardo keeps being surprised at what causes him to look back to the past—a rug, a song, a toy plane—when his children were young and living at home. After each flashback, he calls his son and daughter long distance to reassure himself that they share his (not usually accurate) memories. He mails them mementoes, even though they keep insisting they are doing fine. His confident daughter in Israel, Julia (Inés Efron from XXY), requests old photos to share with her baby, but Leonardo will grudgingly only send ones of the two of them together so that she won’t forget she is still his child.

Much of the film delightfully shows how Leonardo uses writing to escape from his insecurities into a surreal fantasy life. Brooding about his writer’s block, a new advertising assignment, his health and mortality, he slips between imagination and reality, confusing his family’s stories with his written fiction, and keeping the audience guessing what is real. His fixation on his children’s old toys becomes a crutch when he and his wife go to visit their new grandchild in Israel. By finally going to the colorful desert that had been only a distant destination in Burman’s earlier films, the grumbling Leonardo has to accept that his daughter is grown up with a husband and house of her own. The near final image of the couple floating head to head on the Dead Sea under a brilliant sun is both this leisurely, genial film’s emblem and a wonderfully multilayered symbol of maturity. Nora Lee Mandel
April 24, 2009



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