Friday, December 09, 2011

Ibermedia at MoMA: I Miss You

It is nice to have a place to crash in Mexico, especially during a coup. Inevitably though, safety leads to guilt and restlessness for a young Argentine student whose brother has disappeared following the 1976 military coup. Coming of age is a bit more complicated in Fabian Hofman’s I Miss You (trailer here), which screens as part of Iberoamérican Images, MoMA’s continuing retrospective tribute to the Iberian and Latin American film consortium.

Javier’s brother Adrian is the popular one. He is currently serving a stint in the military as incompetently as he can, but his heart is with the leftist radicals. When the coup is launched he careens off in a flurry of mysterious activity—and then he is gone. Fearing Javier will suffer a similar fate, his parents pack him off to his uncle’s home in Mexico City. However, the exile makes his brother’s disappearance even harder for Javier to bear, making him feel truly helpless.

Javier’s family is actually Jewish, tracing its roots back to the Polish shtetls, but Miss treats this intriguing and potentially significant family history as an afterthought. (Surely, the dramatic implications of the descendant of Polish Jewry being rounded up by the government that systematically harbored German war criminals is hard to miss.) Yet, Hofman largely deemphasizes the political in favor of the personal, which is certainly a defensible strategy. Indeed, he almost entirely forgoes the requisite scenes of paramilitary squads ominously marching through the streets of Buenos Aires. Nor is Miss especially flattering in its depiction of the would-be leftist revolutionaries, who come across as more pose than poise.

Miss works best portraying how the extraordinary circumstances of Adrian’s disappearance intensifies and exacerbates the fractures within his family. This is particularly pronounced with Javier’s Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother, whose preference for Adrian becomes increasingly obvious through his absence.

While undeniably sympathetic, Fermín Volcoff’s Javier pushes viewer limits for sullenness. Although it is unequivocally a young person’s film, its soul is clearly represented by Luis Ziembrowski, as the tragically bourgeoisie and understandably anguished father, Renan. In a pleasant surprise, Ana Ofelia Murguia’s work as Javier’s grandmother is one of the most honest and effective portrayals of a dementia in recent years, tantalizingly suggesting moments of lucidity, only to cruelly revert to form.

Though Hofman is rather workmanlike in his approach, he nicely capitalizes on the photogenic Mexican backdrops. Despite the political subject matter, he never indulges in didacticism or score-settling. It is a very personal film, but it spans three Latin American countries (the third being Uruguay), so the support of the multi-national Ibermedia was probably quite valuable. A small but engaging film, Miss is worth seeing when it screens this Sunday (12/11) and the following Wednesday (12/14) during MoMA’s Ibermedia retrospective, Iberoamérican Images.