A tremendous, largely wordless perf by Arturo Goetz is at the heart of the intense and intimate “The Mugger,” an urgent, real-time study of a man in search of unusual kicks. Following a 60-year-old around Buenos Aires, docu-style, as he robs a couple of people may not sound like the most thrilling premise. But Goetz and lenser Cobi Migliora bring it dramatically to life, with the pic ending as a kind of “Pickpocket”-style entertainment combining existentialism with excitement. Festival auds should warm to this edgy, offbeat offering, which exploits limited dramatic resources to the max.
A latecomer to acting, former accountant Goetz — notable in Daniel Burman’s “Family Law” — plays mugger Ramos, and has the kind of face made to communicate even the subtlest of registers. Crucially for the movie, Goetz turns the viewer into Ramos’ emotional accomplice.
Urbane, floppy-haired and wolfish-smiled, Ramos enters a school pretending to be a father wanting to enroll his child. But there is no child. After a brief exchange, Ramos pulls a gun and, oozing avuncular charm, robs the school in an emotionally grueling scene. Ramos heads for a bar where a nervy waitress (Barbara Lombardo) spills scalding coffee on his hand.
The nervous tension accumulates slowly for both Ramos and the viewer: After half an hour, his composure is starting to look pretty ruffled and the smile has vanished. In a pharmacy, he spills the stolen money on the floor, attracting attention. His next port of call is another school, but this time it goes wrong.
On the run again, Ramos becomes aware that the waitress, curious, is following him. After a flash of brutal violence, Ramos repents and seeks to become a decent citizen again, but he may already have come too far.
This is faux fly-on-the-wall fare, so what you see is what you get — no explanations, no motives. There is just the merest hint later that ennui is what drives Ramos, but thankfully the script shuns easy explanations. Dialogue is generally trivial, giving little away.
A mugger who looks like a businessman is an image to which corruption-weary Argentine auds will respond. Using an approach that provides the immediacy of handheld but without an excess of camera movement, Migliora’s camera follows Ramos wherever he goes, using long takes to suggest real time. It’s a testament to Goetz that even when nothing’s happening, there’s something to watch. Demanding role won him the actor nod at the Buenos Aires fest.
Elsewhere, perfs are strong, particularly from protag’s unhappy victims. Leandro Aste’s editing is crucial to pic’s sense of fluidity.