As bereft of interesting ideas as its slightly dyspeptic playwright subject, Daniel Burman’s “Empty Nest” flails to comprehend a married couple whose children have left home. Playing at just over 90 minutes but feeling twice as long, Burman’s latest attempts several ill-judged leaps into fantasy that are meant to reflect a man’s psychological confusion in deep middle age. Without any fresh spin on a mightily overworked theme, pic will follow a healthy Argentine gross this spring with a wan fall-fest rollout and limited interest from upscale markets.
One of Argentina’s most famed dramatists, Leonardo (Oscar Martinez) is beset by a mild form of writer’s block and the prospect of living with wife Martha (Cecilia Roth, incandescent as always) in a much emptier apartment with their three kids grown up and gone. Last to split was Julia (Ines Efron), who has married novelist Ianib (Ron Richter) and moved to his home in Israel.
As Martha gets the itch to return to university, Leonardo doodles some ideas for a friend’s ad campaign and develops a wandering eye for younger women, particularly dental surgeon Violeta (Eugenia Capizzano). In between his little obsessions with croissants, remote-controlled airplanes and secondhand smoke, Leonardo consults a neuroscientist (Arturo Goetz) about his possible failure to distinguish fantasy from reality.
His fantasies take the form of badly staged sequences, such as Leonardo pursuing Violeta through Buenos Aires’ Abasto shopping mall to the sound of Ravel’s “Bolero” (complete with dancing chorus, no less). Impoverished faux-Fellini is not an unkind term for much of this.
This is certainly the oldest-feeling film from one of the younger Argentine auteurs, an awkward case of — as Burman has noted in interviews — how a thirtysomething director imagines a fiftysomething’s life might be.
Where another actor would have been tempted to go over the top, Martinez manages to underplay his suddenly struggling writer’s behavior, and the few moments between him and Roth suggest what a film actually confronting the dimensions of an autumnal marriage might have been. Capizzano makes a vivid impression.
Burman does at least display fine musical taste, choosing jazz pianist Nico Cota’s tasty licks to decorate the soundtrack, along with music by Santiago Rios.