Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burman’s Empty Nest

They say you should write what you know, but what happens when a writer starts to lose his memory? That is the situation facing Leonardo, a celebrated novelist and the protagonist of Argentine director Daniel Burman’s Empty Nest (Spanish trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Leonardo bores easily during his wife Martha’s social outings. Fortunately, finds relief from their shallow conversation when he suddenly meets the insightful psychiatrist, Dr. Spivack. Time passes and their daughter moves out of their flat, leaving Leonardo and Martha with acute empty nest syndrome. While Martha copes by projecting her energies outward, Leonardo turns inward.

Though his memory seems to be slipping, his fantasy life is an active as ever. Yet conversely, Leonardo’s writing ability seems to have abandoned him, but he does not seem particularly troubled by the implications of his deteriorating capacity. If anything, he is more hedonistic, taking pleasure in food and female beauty. Family matters start to become nettlesome obligations, particularly his son-in-law’s supposedly brilliant first novel, which for a myriad of reasons, he cannot bring himself to read.

Eventually, Leonardo and Martha visit their daughter and her husband in Israel. Though, they are not particularly observant, Israel seems to perfectly fit the father’s increasingly dreamy moods. However, reality can always intrude in Israel, as when he spies a machine gun in the couple’s, readily available just in case it is needed.

Burman offers some fascinating meditations on memory and aging. Unfortunately, he uses a distractingly awkward narrative device that viewers just have to deal with. Still he creates some lasting visuals that surreally fit Leonardo’s mental displacement. Oscar Martinez is quite convincing as the established man of letters and Arturo Goetz has an entertaining screen presence as Dr. Spivack. The proceedings are also aided by Nico Cota and Santiago Rio’s elegant jazz and tango piano soundtrack, which gives the film a sophisticated atmosphere and maintains the film’s unexpectedly brisk pacing.

Given the seriousness of subject matter like the ravages of age and the illusiveness of the creative process, Nest is a surprisingly upbeat film. Though imperfectly executed, it has its own peculiar charms. Nest opens Friday (4/24) in New York at the Quad and on May 1st in Los Angeles at the Laemmle.