Sergio Cabrera's "The Art of Losing" nattily adapts Santiago Gamboa's novel into a cut-above genre entertainment. Hard-top prospects outside Spanish-lingo markets may suffer from fact that pic is marginally closer to mainstream than arthouse fare, but further fest dates and decent ancillary sales seem assured.

A whodunnit whose mystery grows less important than the light it sheds on Colombia’s institutional corruption, Sergio Cabrera’s “The Art of Losing” nattily adapts Santiago Gamboa’s novel (more closely translated as “Losing Is a Matter of Method”) into a cut-above genre entertainment. Hard-top prospects outside Spanish-lingo markets may suffer from fact that pic is marginally closer to mainstream than arthouse fare, but further fest dates and decent ancillary sales seem assured.

Daniel Giminez Cacho (concurrently in Pedro Almodovar’s “Bad Education”) — who could have used more time to establish additional character quirks — plays Victor Silampa, a Bogota journalist who’s made all the right connections but paid the price in deep-dyed cynicism and neurosis. Going through drinking bouts, a major smoking habit, plagued by hemorrhoids, a collapsed marriage and God-knows-what other ailments real or imagined, Silampa’s a shambling figure of deadpan self-loathing.

An unidentifiable body is found grotesquely impaled on the wilderness grounds of a just-deceased wealthy eccentric, who had no heirs. This frightful find appears designed to scare somebody off, but who?

As Silampa wades into the case, it begins to resemble Colombia itself — an unholy bottom-to-top alliance of handshake deals, all determined to get business done as usual (i.e. under the table). Protag enlists a working-class sidekick (Cesar Mora), whose brother has disappeared, and romances a prostitute (Martina Garcia, making a decorative if unmemorable film debut) who may be under-age.

Soon, the trio encounters powerful antagonists including a city councilman (Victor Mallarino), a construction company engineer (Jairo Camargo), a slippery lawyer (Sain Castro), an organized crime kingpin (Humberto Dorado) and his nudist organization leader mistress (Mimi Lazo). Of course they’re all in cahoots.While Silampa gets battered around en route, in the end he just stands back to watch as collectively panicked co-conspirators off each other.

Alas, the expose Silampa will actually publish will be the “official story”: The same greased palms that created this mess also assure its more reputable perpetrators get away scot-free, with military police chief Guzman (Gustavo Angarita) playing both sides of the “justice” fence.

Well-observed and played character scroll is so colorful and large there’s a twinge of regret that helmer Cabrera, scenarist Jorge Goldenberg and editor Carmen Frias choose to play things so briskly, with nary a moment not spent driving the plot forward. Nonetheless, results seem pleasingly less focused on thrills than individual idiosyncrasies and contrasting social/power centers.

When violence does arrive, it’s bloody but often haplessly comic as well.

Hans Burmann’s lensing on diverse city locations tops nicely textured contribs from design team. All tech aspects are sleek.

The Art of Losing

Colombia-Spain

Production

A Tornasol Films and Latina Producciones Cinematograficas production in association with ICAA, Canal + and Ibermedia. Produced by Gerardo Herrero, Tomas Dario Zapata. Executive producer, Marianella Cabrera. Directed by Sergio Cabrera. Screenplay, Jorge Goldenberg, based on the novel by Santiago Gamboa.

Crew

Camera (color), Hans Burmann; editor, Carmen Frias; music, Xavier Capellas; production designer, Sebastian Zapata Ciro; costume designer, Martha Torres; sound (Dolby Digital), Jorge Ruiz; assistant director, Daniel Alvarez; casting, Florina Lemetaire. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Sept. 4, 2004. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Martina Garcia, Cesar Mora, Victor Mallarino, Sain Castro, Jairo Camargo, Humberto Dorado, Mimi Lazo, Gustavo Angarita.
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