Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Neighboring Scenes ‘19: Belmonte

Javier Belmonte is no Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. This artist has no aptitude for self-promotion, so if he is going to make it in the art world, it be solely due to talent. Unfortunately, he is not much better at navigating his own personal relationships in Federico Veiroj’s Belmonte, the opening night film of this year’s Neighboring Scenes: New Latin American Cinema.

Frankly, Belmonte really should not complain about his career, because he has a retrospective opening soon at a prominent Montevideo museum. However, Belmonte does not do success well. He is more comfortable with disappointment, such as his failed marriage to Jeanne, whom he clearly still carries a torch for. At least Belmonte tries to pull himself together when his bright but highly sensitive daughter Celeste visits. The end, more or less.

To say that Belmonte has a loose, unhurried narrative would be a whopper of an understatement. Basically, this is seventy-five minutes of watching a man with more advantages in life than many “first worlders” have—commercial and critical credibility in the art world, a loving daughter—mope and brood his way through sunny Montevideo. However, there is something oddly compelling about his social awkwardness. In fact, we can see a kinship between him and Jorge, the shy yet hopeful art-house cinema programmer in Veiroj’s mature but life-affirming A Useful Life.

In fact, real-life painter Gonzalo Delgado’s breakout performance as Belmonte is quite impressive. Delgado contributed some design work to two of Veiroj’s prior films, so he must have picked up something through osmosis. Young Olivia Molinaro Eijo is also quite a remarkable discovery as Celeste. She is completely natural and unaffected on-screen, while also forging some warmly affectionate chemistry with Delgado.

In addition to portraying Belmonte, Delgado also supplied his paintings, which are quite striking, even if they seem to beg for a full battery of psycho-sexual Freudian analysis. Regardless, viewers will completely believe that Delgado is an artist, as he indeed is, and that his paintings are worthy of collectors’ attention.

The problem is it just doesn’t amount to very much, so there no way it could have the staying power of Useful Life. It is like a salad with a tasteful dressing, but no protein. Recommended to a limited extent, based on the quite endearing father-daughter relationship, Belmonte screens this Friday (2/22) at the Walter Reade Theater, as the opening selection of Neighboring Scenes 2019.