by Aaron West
As is often the case, the U.S. translated title for this Argentinian import is a bit misleading. “Intimate Stories” sounds more like a late-night, adult oriented, cable series. The literal translation is “Minimal Stories”, which is far more fitting, but perhaps less marketable in America’s fast-paced, short attention span culture. The tone is soft, the pace slow (but not boringly so), the plot simple and character driven. The picture isn’t overly edited or extravagantly lighted, but instead possesses a natural look and feel that reflects the minimalistic lives of the characters whose stories it conveys.Historias mínimas invites us into the lives of three characters, all living in the same remote, miniscule Argentian town. One day they separately discover the need to visit a nearby metropolis, San Julian, for distinct, somewhat unusual reasons. One story is about Maria Flores (Javiera Bravo), a young recent mother, whose name has been drawn in a raffle for a popular game show in the area. She must visit San Julian to appear on television and collect her prize, which could be anything from a microprocessor to an all expense-paid vacation to Brazil. Roberto (Javier Lombardo), a travelling salesperson wishes to surprise a certain, special someone, by remembering the day of her son’s (or daughter’s) birthday, and spoiling the child with an extravagant, custom-designed cake. The only thing is, he’s not certain of the age or gender of this child, and struggles to find a cake that won’t potentially embarrass him or her. Finally there is Don Justo Benedictis, the elderly owner of the town’s only grocery spot. Someone informs him that they recently saw his old dog, Badface, in San Julian. Longing for some companionship now that his son runs the business, and having not seen the dog in three years, he decides to go claim the dog. After being dismissed as delusional by his son, Don leaves in the middle of the night and decides to make the 200-mile trek to San Julian alone, on foot.
"Shows that sometimes minimalism is the best way to tell a story."
We are drawn to these characters by their unique, sometimes endearing characteristics, which also provides the film with most of its humor. For instance, Don has the uncanny ability to move his ears up and down, much to the delight of the local children who frequent his store. He also has a strange fondness for a pair of bright yellow hiking boots, which he calls tennis shoes. He likes the comfort they provide for him, and cares little for how odd they look. Roberto is, in some ways, a stereotypical travelling salesperson due to his unnatural optimism and alluring charm. He lives and breathes the motivational literature he reads, even if it seems trite to others. He encounters several characters along the way, usually with peculiar baking requests. Even though some of his demands may seem silly, unreasonable even, his personality wins everyone over and they go out of their way to serve him, sometimes without pay. Maria’s quirk, if it can be called that, is her youthful timidity and an innocent naivety towards the ways of the world. Simply making a long distance phone call is a difficult undertaking for her, which makes her eventual television appearance curiously funny. This character-based humor is an effective development tool, plus it allows an otherwise uneventful story to progressly rather smoothly.
Historias works on other levels as well, such as the contrast of drab, rural living with the lures and luxuries of a bustling life in the city. Cute misunderstandings of technology, such as the early on interpretation of a microprocessor as a do-it-all kitchen appliance, convey this cultural divide. Yet, at the core, there is a yearning for simplicity and tradition. This lack of sophistication makes these characters multi-dimensional. They aren’t influenced by the pop culture that surrounds them (and us), which gives them more of their own identity. When they are exposed to something foreign to them, they find impracticality rather than attraction. For instance, when Don is picked up by a professional biologist, he is uncomfortable, somewhat appalled even, in her company. She claims to study life, but doesn’t seem to know much about dogs, plus listens to strange music that might as well come from another planet. The prevailing theme throughout the movie is a rejection of the oddities that come with urban, civilized life, and a preference for a less stimulating, but overall more satisfying quiet life.Historias Minimas is a terrific, minimalistic character study, rich in emotion and depth. It isn’t overly self-indulgent, but instead accessible, cute, and pleasing on a level that touches our own sense of nostalgia. There have been hundreds of movies that show how people don’t appreciate what they truly possess in life, but few strike home with such precision. Fortunately, the story is left relatively open-ended. Again, the translated title fits perfectly, but not just the tone of the movie. It fits the characters themselves. So long as their stories remain minimalistic, we know enough about the characters to know that they will weather any adversity that comes their way.
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originally posted: 06/05/05 23:32:06