There’s something in the water down in Uruguay. Not only is the small nation of 3.5 million an international cinematic powerhouse, but somehow Uruguay’s filmmakers manage to put their country’s unique stamp on virtually everything they make. Of course, there’s plenty of thematic and stylistic diversity in the dozen-or-so national productions that come out each year, but the country has stood out most of all for their absurdist brand of deadpan comedy.
The latest addition to the country’s growing body of awkward laugh-inducing art films comes from first time directors Federico Borgia and Guillermo Madeiro, whose feature Clever has all the hallmarks of its cinematic predecessors while still managing to bring an original and fresh voice to the national scene. The film follows a martial arts instructor and car enthusiast whose mission in life is to get some fly graphics on his ride, and when he catches sight of a masterful flame job, he sets out to find the automotive virtuoso who painted it.
His mission eventually takes him to a small, provincial town where he discovers a quirky cast of characters that lead him to the artistic master – who also happens to be a sensitive body-building enthusiast. It’s a classic story of the apprentice seeking out the hermit master (see: Luke Skywalker and Yoda,) only Borgia and Madeiro give the narrative a clever twist (no pun intended) by bringing it into the world of working-class small-town Uruguayos.
The film’s clean, minimalist style will be familiar to fans of Uruguayan masterpieces like Whisky or Gigante, and so will the understated but convincing performances from actors Hugo Piccinini and Antonio Osta. In the end, it may seem like an absurd conceit, but with Clever Borgia and Madeiro remind us that the soul of a true artist isn’t only found to the sacred spaces of galleries, museums, and top-ranked MFA programs.