Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HFFNY: Radio Corazon

Would you tell your most transgressive sexual episodes to a Chilean in a tank top? Evidently, plenty of other Chileans do. Based on supposedly real calls to the Chilean radio show, Radio Corazón (Spanish trailer here), which screened at the Havana Film Fest NY, tells three stories of sexual intrigue, framed by scenes of Rumpy the host interacting with the callers from the studio.

"Initiation," the first story of Corazón, is meant to be a sort of sex farce, but it is highly problematic. A high school student is committed to losing her virginity before turning eighteen, but is not attracted to her classmates. When she discovers her step-father has been unfaithful to her mother, she attempts to blackmail him into sleeping with her. However, he extricates himself from this dilemma by giving her some alcohol and then having a co-worker impersonate him in bed. In Corazón, this psychologically perilous, potentially incestuous situation is presented in a smarmy American Pie style.

The second caller touches on similar themes, but “My Daughter-In-Law” is given a strictly serious treatment. When a career-minded Chilean neglects his new Argentinean fiancé, she finds support from his single mother. As the young couple’s relationship strains, she finds herself falling into a lesbian relationship with the mother of her intended. Rife with Oedipal implications, the second caller’s tale is presented as tragedy, not comedy. Yet the characters’ actions defy credibility, simply forcing viewers to watch uncomfortable situations unfold.

The final caller has the strongest story to tell, giving Corazón a measure of redemption. In “Fairy Tale,” we hear from Valeria, the former servant of wealthy landed family who tends to the children and the chronically ill lady of the manor. Knowing her time is short, the wife designates the nanny as her chosen successor, trusting her to care for her family in her absence.

Unlike the first two calls, the lead characters of this storyline, though subject to weaknesses, are essentially good people. It ends on an imperfect but satisfying note that is actually quite touching. It also features the strongest performances of the film, including Amparo Noguera as the ailing María Pilar and Tamara Acosta as the kind-hearted Valeria.

Obviously, the tone of Corazón changes drastically with each caller. The one consistency is Rumpy, who can be a bit annoying—think more of an unctuous Phil Donahue more than an outrageous Howard Stern shock jock.

Corazón is a flawed film. While it concludes with a very well written and powerfully acted storyline, its blithe treatment of provocative subject matter is at times unsettling. One wishes the other calls had matched the quality of the third act, but maybe that would not have been representative of the actual radio show. It must be an acquired taste.