Daniel Mantovani (Oscar Martinez) is a celebrated Nobel Prize-winning author living in Barcelona. He hasn’t returned to his hometown of Salas, Argentina in forty years despite setting all of his novels there. To the surprise of everyone he agrees to personally collect a proffered reward as a ‘distinguished citizen’ and maybe rediscover his roots. It’s a decision he begins to regret as the incompetent driver who picks him up from the airport takes a shortcut and strands them in the middle of nowhere.
Things improve when Daniel arrives at the town but it is unclear whether he is there to refuel his contempt for the place, or out of genuine nostalgia. The locals initially welcome him with enthusiasm. The mayor uses the opportunity to boost his own image and ingratiate himself with a powerful man. Meanwhile, his old friend Antonio (a brilliant turn from Dady Brieva, alternately funny and menacing) who delights in seeing his pal while also revelling in the fact that he married Mantonvani’s old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio), one of the few level-headed people in Salas. However, Mantovani is tone deaf to the townsfolk anyway and not everyone is quite so happy to see him.
Judging an amateur painting competition, he rejects everything except a terrible daub which he only likes because it’s painted on an advertising placard, making it unintentionally postmodern. Cultural secretary and one of the contestants, Romero (Marcelo D’Andrea), becomes an enemy for life at that point. Directors Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, who also wrote the screenplay with Andrés Duprat, have great fun placing the quietly dignified but insufferably self-important writer in a number of increasingly embarrassing situations.
An interview for local television is an exercise in cringe and a tryst with young fan Julia (Belén Chavanne) is paid off with a slickly tooled gag. The fact that the story is so predictable leads the directors to opt for a sudden tonal shift towards the end. The misstep can be forgiven. A sophisticated and well-done farce, The Distinguished Citizen is lifted to another level by the wonderful Martinez, who excels as a man searching for a lost innocence that he comes to realize was never there.
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John Bleasdale | @drjonty