The Che Guevara legend is given an engaging twist in "Say Good Day to Dad," in which helmer Fernando Vargas returns to the Bolivian backwoods location of the guerrilla's 1967 execution to dissect his lingering effects on the local community. Fest berths at Lat-Am friendly fests and occasional Spanish-speaking arthouse showings beckon.

This review was updated on Jan, 4, 2006.

The Che Guevara legend is given an engaging twist in “Say Good Day to Dad,” in which helmer Fernando Vargas returns to the Bolivian backwoods location of the guerrilla’s 1967 execution to dissect his lingering effects on the local community. Intelligent item suffers from excess length and slim characterization, but deft plotting over a 40-year span and an attractively parabolic atmosphere help paper over the cracks. Fest berths at Lat-Am friendly fests and occasional Spanish-speaking arthouse showings beckon for a project that supplies a heady mix of magic, passion and politics.

Seven years in the making, the film draws on interviews with locals to tell four stories, each a decade apart, that are woven into a complex but generally convincing plot. The first begins with the execution of Che in a hut in 1967 in the remote Bolivian pueblo of Villagrande, from which his body is taken to be buried at an unspecified location. Things then fast-forward to 1997 and the arrival of an army general under instructions to locate the body and return it to Che’s family. Mayor Bienvenido (Bismark Virhuez) and his sidekick Ramon (Fabrizio Prada) wish Che’s body to remain, believing it will help promote tourism in the area.

These stories frame the bulk of the narrative, which is a somewhat convoluted family drama showing the continuing impact of Che.

The intense, unsmiling Eva (Paola Rios) lives with her matriarch mother Mamina (Isabel Santos) and unsettled daughter Angeles (Soledad Ardaya) and pines for the return of her husband, a long-disappeared soldier. One day an anonymous letter arrives telling them to go and pray for Saint Che if they wish to avoid the curse that has fallen on some of the soldiers who executed him.

While a houseboy to the family, Ramon witnessed Che’s execution and burial, with another strand showing how this has affected him, particularly in his relationship with a French journalist, Jean (Jonatan Stern), there to cover the exhumation of Che’s bones.

The whole thing adds up to a mostly well-handled study of a hitherto abandoned community rechanneling its personal, political and religious hopes and fears into the potent figure of the dead guerrilla. The wealth of material is sewn together neatly as it shuttles back and forth in time and provides many attractively surreal moments, though at times script descends into soap opera.

Though the cast is not enormous, too few of them are allowed to develop interestingly. Many thesps, especially the youngsters, are local amateurs.

In an item where tech credits are generally up to scratch, makeup work does not always convincingly reflect the passage of time, with the face of Mamina in particular looking surprisingly similar across the years, while music is too often clumsily orchestral.

For the record, the title is the code used by military authorities to order Che’s execution.

Say Good Day To Dad

Bolivia-Cuba

Production

An Imagen Propia (Bolivia)/ Matanza Cine (Argentina)/ICAIC (Cuba) production. (International sales: Imagen Propia, La Paz, Bolivia.) Produced by Veronica Cordova, Pablo Trapero, Fernando Vargas. Directed by Fernando Vargas. Screenplay, Veronica Cordova, Vargas.

Crew

Camera (color), Juan Pablo Urioste; editor, German Monje, Vargas; music, Oldrich Halas; art director, Cesar Moron; sound (Dolby Digital), Ramiro Fierro. Reviewed at Casa de America, Madrid, Nov. 28, 2005. (In Huelva Iberoamerican and Palm Springs film festivals.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Isabel Santos, Paola Rios, Jose Veliz, Bismark Virhuez, Soledad Ardaya, Fabrizio Prada.
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