Complex, colorful and deeply humanistic, "The Debt" tackles an economic problem in Argentina and by extension examines the relationship between rich and poor. Popularity of helmer-tube personality Jorge Lantana is a big selling point locally. Docu takes on an added timeliness as Argentina is held up as a model of what could be happening in the United States.

Complex, colorful and deeply humanistic, “The Debt” tackles an economic problem in Argentina and by extension examines the relationship between rich and poor. Popularity of helmer-tube personality Jorge Lantana is a big selling point locally. Docu, which will appeal to fans of “The Corporation,” takes on an added timeliness as Argentina is held up as a model of what could be happening in the United States.

Lantana, a corpulent, Michael Moore-type to millions of Argentine tube watchers, ran a gadfly weekly program for years before he stumbled on one situation — or person — that made him want to make a feature-length documentary. In an installment looking at poverty in the rural, largely aboriginal Tacuman province, he met 8-year-old Barbarita Flores, who was obviously starving to death.

He talked to her relatives, to social workers and politicians, and eventually worked his way up the literal food chain to the bankers (and critics) of the International Monetary Fund.

Lantana goes to extraordinary lengths, using animation, cool graphics and off-the-wall interview techniques to keep aud interest high and convey abstract notions in an easy to grasp fashion. Throughout, the usually bearded, constantly smoking host comes across as an avuncular figure, troubled by facts — like 10 percent of one province living in abject poverty while governments say they’ve already blown their budgets — but slow to assign blame in only one direction.

Along a route that takes him from Tacuman to Buenos Aires to spa towns in Uruguay and Switzerland and, finally, to IMF offices in Washington, D.C., he begins questioning the postwar notion of debt itself. One American critic even refers to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as “loan sharks” who exist to keep smaller economies destabilized.

Lantana wonders, further, if local politicians use this system to feather their own nests. (His interviewing m.o. is respectful yet steely.)

No easy answers are offered. (Spanish subtitle translates as “Who Owes Whom?”) Once Barbarita starts eating well, after a national outpouring in response to Lantana’s original broadcast and the subsequent media frenzy, her neighbors are seen as unreasonably jealous — although helmer puts this down to a “divide and conquer” mentality.

Transfer from DV to 35mm is excellent, and should help pic get picked up internationally, and electric guitar-led score is a nicely modern touch to smart-looking item.

The Debt

Argentina

Production

A Patagonik Film Group production, with support from Naya Films S.S. and INCAA. (International sales: Buena Vista Intl., Buenos Aires.) Produced by Pablo Bossi. Executive producer, Cecilia Bossi. Directed by Jorge Lantana, Andres Schaer. Written by Lantana, Schaer, Juan Pablo Domenech.

Crew

Camera (color), Miguel Abal, Jose Luis Diaz; editors, Sergio Zottola, Schaer; music, Andres Goldstein, Daniel Tarrab; production designer, Sara Stewart Brown; sound (Dolby Digital), Carlos Abbate, Diaz; animation, Pablo Rodriguez Jaregui; associate producers, Jose Luis Cabrera, Alejandro Heredia, Mario Suez, Patricia Suez; assistant director, Federico O'Auria. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival (Viva Argentina), June 12, 2005.Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Jorge Lantana, Barbarita Flores, Anne Krueger, Klaus Schwab, James D. Wolfeson, Alejandro Olmos, Claudio Loser, Paul Blustein.
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