Latin America deserves and needs more films like Whisky. This bitter sweet comedy is the perfect antidote to the fast-paced, sexed up and bleached-out fare that Amores Perros and City of God have institutionalised as the ‘new Latin American cinema’. Whisky is more universal, timeless and comes laced with a strong dose fine Jewish humour. It’s not a strictly topical film, but it touches on subjects such as loneliness and social awkwardness.
André Pazoz plays Jacobo Köller, a frumpy Jewish sock factory owner in Uruguay. His extremely humdrum routine doesn’t seem to bother him. He has a right hand at the factory, Marta (played by the wonderfully subtle Mirella Pascual) who waits for Jacobo outside the factory every morning, punctually. After that, the two female employees arrive and they repeat the same ritual, day in, day out.
This routine is established right at the beginning of the film with the precision of a clock. Directors Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll insert a series of still shots and dialogues that contextualise the mise-en-scene in a broader timeframe. The rhythm of the editing is almost hypnotic.
One morning Jacobo asks Marta to pretend to be his wife during the period when his brother Herman (Jorge Bolani) will be visiting from Brazil (presumably to make his dreary life look a bit better in his happily married brother’s eyes). She promptly accepts the request, with her typically dignified solicitousness. She helps him make the house look as if it’s inhabited by a couple; they even take a ‘happy couple’ studio shot, which is when we learn the origin of the film title: whisky is what people say to appear they’re smiling when they have their photographs taken. The irony here is nothing short of genius.
After Herman’s arrival, Whisky becomes a mixture of domestic comedy and a one-stop road movie when brothers and bogus wife travel to a tacky, cloudy, wind-swept beach resort. At this point, it starts to look like the film Jim Jamursch would have made if he were Uruguayan.
Whisky, like the drink, lingers. Mirella Pascual’s performance is particularly good: her sense of timing and the subtlety with which she reveals her character’s feelings at the end are a master class in filmic micro-acting. Pazos is also perfection as the dysfunctional middle-aged man who can’t look after himself and lives in permanent denial and oblivion. This is a timeless story told with a humane, compassionate touch. Tedium and monotony never appeared so enticing.