Telling its big story through small details, Daniel Burman's distinctive, subtly effective feature paints an unusually affirmative picture of multicultural existence. Study of dislocated youth against a backdrop of a community of immigrants. Arthouse auds outside Spanish-language territories could open their arms. Further fest play beckons.

Telling its big story through small details, Daniel Burman’s distinctive, subtly effective fourth feature, “Lost Embrace,” paints an unusually affirmative picture of multicultural existence. Cunningly setting its study of dislocated youth against a backdrop of a dislocated community of immigrants, pic thematically develops out of, and reps an advance on, helmer’s acclaimed “Waiting for the Messiah.” A general lack of drama, a low-budget docu feel and an ultraslim storyline are more than compensated for by a sterling script and perfs. Given the right encouragement, arthouse auds outside Spanish-language territories could open their arms to “Lost Embrace.” At the least, further fest play beckons.

Broodingly handsome, intense twentysomething Ariel (Daniel Hendler, star of “Messiah”) lives in Galeria Once, a shabby shopping center in a largely Jewish working-class area of Buenos Aires. His mother, Sonia (Adriana Aizenberg, superb), runs a lingerie store, and his energetic, roguish brother, Joseph (Sergio Boris), an import-export business. Ariel’s father, Elias (Jorge D’Elia), went to Israel in the ’70s to fight in the Yom Kippur War and never returned.

Ariel has dropped out of university and now leads a random existence, calling on people for a chat, having sex with Rita (Silvina Bosco) and reflecting angrily on his father.

Ariel wants to get a Polish passport so he can go to Europe and start a new life. So he enlists the help of his Polish emigrant grandmother (Rosita Londner), the advice of Rabbi Benderson (Norman Erlich) and the reassurances (not forthcoming) of ex-g.f. Estela (Melina Petriella). Ariel’s navel-gazing could become wearisome, but the effect is mitigated by his nicely self-deprecating sense of humor.

The script keeps a tight parallel focus on the storeowners who provide the backdrop to his life: fixer Mitelman (Diego Korol), of Lithuanian stock; Italian Saligani (Aitilio Pozzobon) and his family; Koreans Li Khue (Catalina Cho) and Li Kue (Pablo Kim); gentle, lonely stationer Osvaldo (Isaac Fain), forced to close his business down; and Peruvian odd-job laborer Ramon (Juan Jose Flores Quispe), who participates in street races against laborers from other neighborhoods. One of these races has the whole barrio out in the streets whooping and shouting in an appealing celebration of multicultural life.

Though there is a slow section at around the hour point, the finely crafted script generally shuttles nimbly between characters’ stories, with an engaging portrait emerging of a community composed of people who, though different, have found a common ground in a shared love of life.

Nothing sensational happens: Such modestly upbeat fare is far from the conflictive views of multiculturalism beloved of contempo helmers, but it may rep a more authentic view of many people’s experience. The slightly facile, sentimental conclusion, though, is mismanaged.

Dialogue is pretty much constant, and much of it lightly philosophical. There is plenty of quiet, well-observed comedy.

Pic is shot hand-held, giving a fly-on-the-wall docu feel, with no exposition. Lighting is low, and interiors are thus tinted a relentless dull yellow brown, adding to authenticity but making pic look almost monochrome. Buffs will enjoy finding parallels with Vittorio De Sica’s movie “Sunflowers,” as Ariel does. Cesar Lerner’s gentle, Satie-esque piano score provides an appropriately self-effacing backdrop.

Lost Embrace

Argentina-Spain-France-Italy

Production

A Nirvana Films release of a BDCine (Argentina)/Wanda Vision (Spain)/Paradise Films (France)/Classic (Italy) production in association with Canal Plus. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Munich.) Produced by Jose Maria Morales, Diego Dubcovsky. Directed by Daniel Burman. Screenplay, Burman, Marcelo Biromajer.

Crew

Camera (color), Ramiro Civita; editor, Alejandro Brodersohn; music, Cesar Lerner; art director, Maria Eugenia Sueiro; sound (Dolby Digital), Martin Grignaschi. Reviewed at Image Film, Madrid, Feb. 3, 2004. (In Berlin Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Ariel - Daniel Hendler Joseph - Sergio Boris Sonia - Adriana Aizenberg Elias - Jorge D'Elia Ariel's Grandmother - Rosita Londner Mitelman - Diego Korol Rita - Silvina Bosco Estela - Melina Petriella Osvaldo - Isaac Fain Saligani - Aitilio Pozzobon Li Kue - Pablo Kim Li Khue - Catalina Cho Ramon - Juan Jose Flores Quispe Rabbi Benderson - Norman Erlich

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