Daniel Hendler as Ariel
Adriana Aizenberg as Sonia
Jorge d’Elia as Elias
Sergio Boris as Joseph
Diego Korol as Mitelman
Atilio Pozzobon as Senior Saligani
Silvina Bosco as Rita
Isaac Fajn as Osvaldo
Salo Pasik as Marcos
Melina Petriella as Estela
Normal Erlich as Rabbi Benderson
Rosita Londner as Grandmother
Juan Jose Flores Quispe as Ramon
Amusing characters and fun situations make this poignant voyage of self-discovery entertaining, even if it’s not the best example of this type of film.
Ariel (Daniel Hendler) is a young college dropout working in his divorced mother’s lingerie shop in Buenos Aires, hoping to get a Polish passport so he can travel in Europe. Still resentful that his father left them to fight in Israel when he was younger, he hears stories about him from the wacky residents of the shopping mall, making him want to find out the truth behind why his parents were divorced.
This new slice-of-life film from Argentina’s Daniel Burman begins with a first person narrative from the film’s protagonist Ariel, describing the mall in which his mother’s lingerie shop resides and running through the roster of wacky residents who have set up shop there for decades. There’s the oddly placed Feng Shui store owned by a Korean couple, the two Jewish cousins who own a fabric store, his brother who makes a living trading odds and ends, and the sexy bombshell Rita, who owns an internet store with an elderly financier that may or may not be her husband. It’s a simple introduction that gets you interested in these characters, making the perfect set-up for a series of funny and often poignant segments revolving around Ariel’s attempts to find himself while interacting with the mall tenants.
As with most communal places, gossip plays a large part in the mall’s day-to-day, as Ariel starts having a series of secret trysts with Rita the internet woman. At the same time, he’s having trouble adjusting to his mother’s new social life with a mysterious male suitor. After decades, he’s still very angry about his father leaving them, and though he learns more about his father from those around him, he just wants to get away from it all. Since much of the area’s minimal Jewish popular congregates in the area, Judaism plays a large part in their lives and relationships with the local rabbi often playing mediator and advisor, even as he himself plans to leave the area for brighter pastures.
It’s easy to settle into the film’s sitcom-like characters and situations, as they work in a similar way as films like Amelie or The Barbarian Invasions. Still, it takes a long time for a central story that ties the individual segments together to come to the fore. Much of the film consists of disjointed stories told by the different characters about their past, supplying Ariel with some information about his father. Although his search for self and uncovering the mystery to his father’s sudden departure is integral, much of the movie builds up to a big race between two porters in order to settle a wager between Ariel’s brother and another vendor.
When Ariel’s father finally does return, just as the big race is starting, you’re not really sure how to feel about it. Ariel’s reaction is so immediately negative and unforgiving, you can’t help but get mad at how he acts toward his returning father, as the dynamics between him and everyone around him quickly changes. A lot of what takes place after that turning point seems to be done more for drama and sentimentality, and a lot of it doesn’t make sense. For the first part of the film, Ariel is trying to run away from his past and his family in the figurative sense, but he spends much of the last act quite literally running away from his father, something which often doesn’t work as well visually as directors might think.
Being the third film that Daniels Burman and Hendler have made together, their working relationship allows Hendler to be the glue that holds the story and characters together. He’s certainly a strong enough actor to pull it off, although at times, his delivery is far too cynical, and the way he acts towards others makes it very hard to empathize with him. He also looks way too old to be playing a college age student in his early 20’s. Of the rest of the decent ensemble cast, the only other real standout is Adriana Aizenberg as Ariel’s mother Sonia, who handles her humorous and dramatic scenes equally well.
Except for the weak third act, Lost Embrace is a worthy effort with enough funny situations to keep it entertaining, even if Burman’s original intentions for making the movie never really come across.