A winning homage to the life and music of tunesmith Gato Perez, Ventura Pons' "The Great Gato" signals the helmer's first return to docus since his 1978 debut. Dominated by Perez's music, pic initially looks limited to fans of the musician, but Pons' reputation and the sheer quality of many of the perfs of the compositions could make this find niches.

A winning, low-key homage to the life and music of Argentine-born, Barcelona-based tunesmith Gato Perez, who died age 40 in 1990, Ventura Pons’ “The Great Gato” signals the prolific helmer’s first return to docus since his 1978 debut, “Ocana, Intermittent Portrait.” Dominated by Perez’s music, pic initially looks limited to fans of the musician, but Pons’ reputation and the sheer quality of many of the perfs of the distinctive, engaging compositions could make this find niches, with cult theatrical an outside possibility.

Perez and family moved to Barcelona in 1964, and quickly became a part of the local music scene, his sensitive, intelligent rumbas making him a worthy follower to pioneering performers of the Catalan form like Pescadilla and Peret. Mixing personal and professional reflections on Perez with 15 generally successful versions of his expressive songs (often in Catalan), film is simply structured, the music alternating with a variety of reminiscences from family, friends and associates, which range from the tender and faintly puzzled (his first wife, Carmen Alvarez) to the bawdy.

A human, contradictory picture emerges of someone who was emotional but a theorist, a family man who loved his freedom, who memorably, if incomprehensibly, suggested the three keys to wisdom are “viewpoint,” “library” and “street.”

Pic suggests a darker side to Perez’s emotional life which is only touched on, as the chronological structure moves on to his less successful later years and the impact of his death. The recollections also build a picture of the excitement of ’70s bohemian life in the Catalan capital.

Lensing of musical segs is smooth and unobtrusive, and performances, by high-profile singers and a purposefully built backing band, cover a range of Perez material. Delicately modulated interpretations from Benjamin Escoriza (“Sabor de barrio”), Luis Eduardo Aute (“Todo sexo femenino”) and Maria del Mar Bonet (“Al carrer de la cera”) contrast with the bounce and energy of Ojos de Brujo’s “Ay, Rumba Cali.” A scene from a gypsy wedding, highlighting Perez’s identification with the margins of society, outdoes them all for sheer vigor.

Images and footage of Perez himself are almost wholly absent, but Pons’ typical attention to detail and visual good taste comes over strongly.

The Great Gato

Spain

Production

A Hispano Foxfilm release of an Els Films de la Rambla production, with participation of TVE, TVC. (International sales: Els Films, Barcelona.) Executive produced, directed, written by Ventura Pons.

Crew

Camera (color), Bernat Bosch; editor, Pere Abadal; music, Gato Perez; art director, Bel.lo Torres; sound (Dolby Digital), Boris Zapata. Reviewed at Cine Renoir, Madrid, Jan. 23, 2003. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Carmen Alvarez, Jaume Sosa, Javier Mariscal, Angel Casas. (Spanish & Catalan dialogue)

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