In "Red Ink," seasoned Peruvian director Francisco Lombardi applies his skills to an over-familiar story of an impressionable rookie reporter learning the ropes from a hardened old pro and eventually adopting his questionable ways.
In “Red Ink,” seasoned Peruvian director Francisco Lombardi applies his skills to an over-familiar story of an impressionable rookie reporter learning the ropes from a hardened old pro and eventually adopting his questionable ways. While its depiction of corruption and cynicism in the media may be hard-hitting at home, wider audiences will feel a sense of deja vu watching this engrossing enough but unsubtle drama, whose forceful leading player, Gianfranco Brero, won the best actor award in San Sebastian. Beyond Latin American territories, commercial outlook for the Peruvian-Spanish co-production appears limited.
As a story about initiation into a jaded world of compromised values, the adaptation by screenwriter Giovanna Pollarolo of Alberto Fuguet’s novel is efficiently structured. Required to undertake a journalism stint as a condition of his scholarship to become a prose writer, Alfonso (Giovanni Ciccia) signs on at sensationalist tabloid El Clamor with his quasi-girlfriend Nadia (Lucia Jimenez), whose special treatment immediately establishes the sexist attitudes of the environment.
Those attitudes are reinforced when Alfonso lands in the crime section under the tutelage of seen-it-all, womanizing veteran Faundez (Brero), who makes fun of the intern’s writing aspirations and his admiration for Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, nicknaming him Varguitas. Accompanying Faundez, his photographer (Fele Martinez) and his quotation-spouting driver (Carlos Gassols) on the news beat each day, Alfonso witnesses his boss consoling and seducing bereaved widows, sharing scoops with his mistress (Yvonne Frayssinet), a lazy radio reporter, and preying on people’s grief for the sake of a story. At the same time, he learns how to embroider the facts with lurid color.
When a personal crisis in Faundez’s life takes him out of the office, Alfonso is called upon to fill his shoes, a job he adapts to surprisingly well. He reveals a talent for putting compassion to one side, learning to bribe, flatter and coerce just like his teacher. Having finally succeeded in taking Nadia to bed, he also adopts Faundez’s dismissive attitude toward women. Both teacher and student are shocked and disillusioned when they realize, respectively, what one has created and the other has become.
Resembling countless films of the past — perhaps most notably Claude Zidi’s 1984 French feature “Les ripoux,” which created a similar dynamic between two cops — the drama seems naive and obvious. But aside from his often unjustified overuse of nervous handheld camera to convey the rhythm and urgency of the reporters’ environment, director Lombardi does a polished job with the unexceptional material. Brero deftly navigates his character’s course from his unsympathetic presentation through his gradual humanizing as a result of painful experience, while Ciccia makes an equally persuasive foil.