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Gabriela Velásquez in OCTUBRE (Photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center)

Written, Produced & Directed by Daniel & Diego Vega
Released by New Yorker Films
Spanish with English subtitles
Peru. 83 min. Not Rated
Bruno Odar, Gabriela Velásquez, Carlos Gasols, María Carbajal, Sheryl Sánchez Mesco, Víctor Prada, Sofía Palacios, Norma Francisca Villarreal & Humberta Trujillo

A winner of a Cannes jury prize last year, the debut feature of brothers Daniel and Diego Vega has a mischievous streak that’s out of character when compared to so many well-meaning and discerning festival award-winning films. By discerning, I mean a film in which the direction seemingly refrains from intruding on the unfolding story and the camera, like a harsh magnifying glass, focuses the viewer’s attention on the actors, accompanied by non-fussy camerawork, editing, and soundtrack. After an hour of interconnected clipped vignettes, an act of folk magic (or a petty and alarming act of revenge, depending on how you look at it) rocks the measured rhythm. But even before then, the lean and elliptical storytelling keeps you engaged about what one character, in particular, is up to.

From his living room, which is badly in need of replastering, Clemente (Bruno Odar) runs his ad-hoc pawnshop in a hard-luck Lima neighborhood, doling out loans with high interest and hoarding jewelry and money in his oven. He wears a stern poker face, maintaining a hard line against any sob story. Living his life by rote—eat, make money, have sex—he’s all business, averse to making small talk, whether he’s negotiating with clients or with his favorite prostitute. About the only sound he makes after one tryst is to utter, “Ciao.” Then, as the Hollywood pitch would go, “His world is turned upside down when he’s shocked to find a baby girl in his home.” Rather than give the newborn to the police (and face public scrutiny), he keeps her, contradicting what we know of his rigid self-interest. He assumes she has been abandoned by the mother, one of the hookers he frequents. But rest assured there’s nothing cute about this film. This is no “Scrooge and a Little Baby.” It’s slowly heart thawing, with a tone so droll that even one of the characters is wheeled in and out, comatose.

Clemente’s character is clear-cut from the beginning. The only variation in his behavior is his level of determination in finding the baby’s mother and passing on counterfeit money to an unsuspecting sucker. Unfortunately for him, everyone in Lima is streetwise. As if to answer the audience’s prayers, Sofía (the saucer-eyed Gabriela Velásquez) steadily takes over the film. (For the life of me I don’t remember anyone calling her by that name, and Clement is often referred to as the “pawnbroker’s son”—it’s hard to imagine him being described as anything else.)  She’s single, childless, and about the same (middle) age as Clemente. Shrewdly, the plot doesn’t play matchmaker; it’s more a covert operation. Because he knows nothing about bringing up babies, Sofía looks after the infant to work off her debt to Clemente. After becoming his full-time nanny, she sleeps in the living room with the baby—at first. Her optimism is the film’s beating pulse. October is supposed to be her lucky month in winning a lottery, and we first see her in a clogged, candlelight religious procession among hundreds of the faithful. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and everyone has a price or a trick up their sleeve, but Sofía softens the film’s view of hard-hearted, street-level capitalism and relationships at their most pragmatic. She has her own agenda, like everyone else, but her terms are much more generous. Kent Turner
May 6, 2011



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