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Review: Vagón Fumador (2001)

Director: | 91 minutes | , | Actors: , , , , , , , , , Christian Dos Santos, , ,

Verónica Chen’s first full-length ‘Vagón Fumador’ is a somewhat pretentious, at times atmospheric film that focuses mainly on Reni’s (Bengolea) gloomy attitude and fairly self-destructive behavior. There is a hint of depth in the characters through long takes, “meaningful” dialogues, and montages of the city and its inhabitants, but it all remains a bit too superficial and too depressed to fascinate the viewer much. It starts with the dramatic image of Reni taking a bath and just “accidentally” cut her wrist on the glass from a broken bottle lying on the floor. Keeping her hands under water and pressing gently on her wrist, she seems to be playing with the thought of suicide here. But why is she so depressed that she is considering such an ?

A little later (but perhaps this is earlier in the story) we see her in the evening at a bank, while inside, in the loft with the ATM, a sexual transaction takes place in addition to a financial transaction. The prostitute, bisexual Andrés (Brzezicki) has cleverly chosen his field of work: at ATMs you can at least know for sure that people have money. Just throw his charms into battle and it is immediately checkout. Through the black and white images of the security camera, we as viewers witness his business deals with a few men who know how to turn Andrés on. Through the camera we are turned into a voyeur, and are thus aligned with Reni, who observes it all from the street. She finds it fascinating and exciting in some way and therefore takes a closer look at Andrès herself.

We don’t get to know much about Reni. When Andrés asks about her past, she hangs up fantastic stories. That she has no parents, for example, and came to life in a test tube. The only thing that is clear is that she is depressed and lonely. She is a singer in a Portishead-like band, where her dark lyrics and dragging way of singing are not always well received by the audience and band members. She also hardly rehearses, and so she is about to be kicked out of the band. Reni will explore her own boundaries by becoming a prostitute, just like Andrés. Just to know what it’s like to have that sexual power. You may wonder how credible this is, but at least it gives Chen the opportunity to emphasize her central theme even more: that everything in this world can be expressed in money and you only have value if you have a price. However, this is not discussed in depth, and the film does not have much more to tell than this. Situations are sketched in a somewhat superficial way or ways of thinking are expressed that, despite the nice camerawork and the reasonably performing actors, remain reduced to fairly empty, undeserved observations. A scene in which the pair look down on the city from a hill at night shows this well. Quasi philosophically, Reni establishes that the city is a monster, as it looks like an octopus from the hill with its many, swinging arms. It’s a monster that makes you crave things you don’t really need, like cell phones. Well, it might be a theme worth exploring further, but with that fragment you as a viewer are more likely to burst out laughing than nod in agreement or sympathize with Reni, who is down in the pit. Verónica Chen provides an interesting picture of the frustrated, searching youth in Buenos Aires in time, but unfortunately generally lacks convincing.

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