Review: Subte-Polska (2015)

Argentine indie filmmaking at its cutest.

by Benjamín Harguindey

Subte-Polska (2015) is about the renaissance of a 90 year-old elder, one Tadeusz (Héctor Bidonde), who stops taking certain pills and rediscovers himself in a physical, mental and spiritual plain. It’s a pretty feel-good movie, written and directed by Alejandro Magnone with a tenderness that would be unbearable were the script not to include a little bit of sly mischief as well.

The old man’s spree of embarrassments gets on the nerves of his whiny nephew, so there’s comedy. And with these sprees come the moments of nostalgic lucidity in which he reminisces of his role in the Spanish Civil War and the loves he has lost, so there’s also drama.

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A large portion of the movie consists of Tadeusz’s quest to recover his sexual prowess and his obsession with acquiring a penile pump (“I think better when I get it up!”), as well as his squabbles with the dull men of science who’d rather keep him hopped on drugs.

The plot meanders almost as much as its protagonist, who spends his days traversing the underground subway lines of Buenos Aires (the very same he helped build as a younger man) and literally facing the ghosts of his past. Due to a conceit of the movie we also see flashbacks to Tadeusz’s adolescent guerrilla days (played then by Alan Daicz), a recourse that feels rather cursory. These scenes don’t quite rhyme with the story and are relatively weak next to the present ones, in which Bidonde – beast of an actor that he is – composes a character that is both captivating and endearing.

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The supporting cast is the movie’s other secret weapon, and it’s a pleasure to see how even the tiniest of characters is given purpose, giving each role a concrete function in the plot, a voice of their own and at least one funny line of dialogue. Of note are Marcelo Xicarts as the prototypically unhappy porteño who has to suffer his uncle’s bumbling – who has to suffer everything, for everyone, really –, Manuel Callau as a friendly newspaper vendor who’s game for everything with innocent devotion and Miguel Ángel Solá in a brief role as Tadeusz’s old, mirthful war buddy.

Buenos Aires is otherwise portrayed as if it were a small town, inhabited exclusively by people who are most interested in the life of Tadeusz and more than willing to involve themselves in it with the altruistic aplomb of deus ex machinas. The movie allows this whim, both capricious and whimsical, but the most incredible of all fantasies is that the Avenida de Mayo subway station would be that empty for one miserable second.


BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

 

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