Charming and talented Chilean director b>Silvio Caiozzi</b> rocked back and forth as he introduced his film Cachimba on Monday at the Quad as part of the 6th Havana Film Festival in New York. Unfortunately, his film displays the same oscillating motion, rocking between stunning and lost. Caiozzi based this award-winning film on a short novel by Latin American Boom writer José Donoso, entitled Naturaleza muerta con cachimba (Still Life with Pipe), with whom Caiozzi had collaborated on an earlier film. As such, he obviously infused the film with much love, but he perhaps should have taken a hint from the length of the novel. Cachimba starts strongly — as a dark, quirky comedy that Caizzo terms "very acid" — but the piece loses its way as it meanders through the story and across various tones.
Pablo Schwarz turns in a mostly great performance as Marcos Ruiz, a bank employee who spends his free time trying to convince his girlfriend Hilda (Mariana Loyola) to take off her clothes when they make love and to do so with the lights on, rather than humping dressed and in the dark on Hilda’s parents’ sofa. As part of his plan to achieve a more open sex life, Marcos takes Hilda to Cartagena, a town on the Chilean coast, once the playground of aristocrats and now the charming refuge of artists. There, the couple stumbles upon a decrepit museum commemorating the unknown painter Larco whom Marcos decides to champion as a national treasure.
Up until this point, the film works wonderfully. A witty disclaimer before the narrative starts mocks the tradition of denying any connection to other persons real or imaginary. The hysterically awkward scene on Hilda’s couch elicits squirmy chuckles. And the arrival in Cartagena and the discovery of the museum with its salty, old custodian Felipe (Julio Jung) utilize both wit and minor slapstick humor. A particularly funny moment comes when Hilda has bent over to examine a painting, and Caiozzi shows the audience Marcos’s view of Hilda’s ample behind as she says — about the painting — "¿Le gusta? ¿Grande, huh?"
Showing the world through Marcos’s eyes represents a great triumph for Caiozzi and Miguel Abal, the fabulous director of photography. Once enamored with Larco, Marcos finds his gaze turning seascapes into paintings, smoothly and delicately. He sees two naked pinup girls leave their posters on the wall behind his girlfriend to flank her as she talks. His daydreams and drunken visions deftly draw the audience into the mind of this little man with fantastic illusions. Throughout, the camera moves nimbly and almost imperceptibly to create interesting and beautiful shots.
But things change. The film descends into overacted and gimmicky farce, and its witty depth disappears. It becomes, seemingly, a vehicle for mostly lame sight gags, as when Marcos and his friend Perico (Patricio Contreras) lean stiffly backwards and forwards in unison with each other and the head of human resources at the bank throughout their entire conversation. The acting also goes over the top and leaps into stereotypes, especially with the torrent of side characters who swamp the film and the Larco museum, particularly the cackling cabal of the art preservation foundation.
The local beggar and Felipe both suffer from stereotypical portrayals. Loyola’s lovely Hilda also slips into this trap, transforming from a quirky woman into the cliché of the whiny, jealous, and insecure girlfriend. These elements, as well as the sepia-toned flashbacks to Larco’s life (where Marcos imagines himself as the painter) and the cheesy moments of romance — even in some of the mostly well-done fantasies — might produce the feeling that the film is mocking itself. Therefore, it does not manage to effectively sell its humor or its story (which winds on too long anyway).
The film fails to take advantage of the potential it suggests early on in the story. The mysterious beggar who follows Marcos and Hilda and takes up a lot of screen time seems poised to have some significance, but he never does. The "French" woman slips and lets her real accent out, but nothing ever comes of that. The flashback framing device that appears near the start of the film with Marcos drinking away his sorrows in a bar returns as it should, but it does not seem to fit in the chronology of the rest of the film. When does it happen? Looking at these let downs, is the audience merely supposed to lament the disastrous forces of the rich, the fakes, and the institutions who cannot really appreciate great art and good people?
The film says on several occasions to look into the dark patches in art — and, one supposes, in life — where nothing seems to exist, and therein find the real and mysterious wonder of it all. But Cachimba seems to have hidden that wonder too well or just forgotten to include it. Or, perhaps, Caiozzi has pulled one over on all of us. Felipe tells Marcos that Larco always said, "El arte es una mierda" and life should be the masterpiece. Marcos eventually learns this, and maybe Cachimba intends the audience to as well. Get a life. Get out of the theater. Live your dreams.