The gift of a daunting Dogo Argentino show dog provides unexpected opportunities for a laid-off pump attendant in this tender-hearted tale from Patagonia.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2005
This gently comic, emotionally satisfying film from Argentina is a laidback gem. The leads give winning, natural performances, and director Carlos Sorin unfurls his saggy dog tale at a relaxed, but quietly efficient pace, without the need for contrived drama. There aren’t many films in which the dramatic high points concern whether or not one dog is going to hump another.
Juan Villegas has lost his long-time job as a mechanic and is trying – and failing – to make his way selling artisan knives. The first half-hour of this film meanders with its sad-sack protagonist as he encounters mild setbacks (no knives today, sorry) and mild triumphs (winning a pair of Men in Black sunglasses in a petrol promotion.
Things change when avuncular Juan offers to help out a stranded motorist, and ends up towing her home, 150km away. Juan insists that time is one thing he has plenty of, and he seems positively chuffed to be working on an engine again. But his hosts insist on rewarding him for his service with some jars of jam and a ferocious-looking Dogo Argentino, the lone remnant of the late patriarch’s attempt to establish a dog stud.
Too polite to refuse, Juan adopts the dog, naming him Lechien (after the kennel name chosen by its French former owner), and his life turns upside-down. He’s ejected from his daughter’s chaotic household, but it soon becomes clear that this striking dog is getting Juan the kind of attention he’s never had before, and, more to the point, giving his life renewed purpose. He’s offered a job as a security guard, then inveigled into the arcane world of dog shows and stud servicing.
It’s hard to know whether Juan or Lechien is the more bemused but they’re both swept along by the mania of burly dogo enthusiast Walter. Lechien (or Bombón, according to his pedigree papers) turns out to be a fine specimen of doghood (and a great deadpan performer besides), and Walter and Juan prepare to reap the rewards on the stud circuit. Unfortunately for them, the dog’s easy-going demeanour shades into utter timidity when confronted with a bitch in heat. Dreams in tatters, the scheme unravels. Can Bombón recover his libido? Will these new friendships survive the setback? — Andrew Langridge