A well-honed, understated item about the impact of politics on personal lives during the buildup to the 1973 military coup in Uruguay, “Small Country” is admirable in its refusal to exploit the story to the cinematic maximum and for keeping its eye on the truth. But pic’s even-handedness leaves it lacking excitement, giving the impression there’s a much more intense, satisfying movie struggling to break out. This too-rare item from the always interesting femme helmer Ana Diez is further hampered by continually reverting back to a present-day storyline that adds little. Offshore prospects look slim outside limited Spanish-speaking territories.
When soccer player Xavi (Nicolas Pauls) arrives in Spain to retire, he comes across a woman from his past, Rosana (Maria Botto). The rest of pic will shuttle between their conversations in the present about their shared roots, and their childhood when the boy Xavi (Pablo Arnoletti) grew up as the son of cobbler Manuel (vet Emilio Gutierrez Caba), and lived on the same street as the girl Rosana (Pia Rodriguez), the daughter of the head of police Severgnini (Mauricio Davub). The childhood part of the yarn unfolds through the kids’ semi-comprehending eyes.
When Manuel is out hunting one day, he realizes that something is astir with the military. The coming shift in political power is neatly signposted here in a conversation between Severgnini and army colonel Moreira (Jorge Bolani), who’s keen to root out the Tupamaros (Marxist guerrillas) from this so-called “Switzerland of Latin America.”
Severgnini and Manuel send the kids to a house in the country, where they start the childhood romance. Their friendship is cut short, however, by the coup.
Pic contends that under certain political conditions it’s impossible not to take sides and, thus, when Manuel’s Tupamaros acquaintances ask him to make sure that Severgnini leaves the city on the day of an important soccer game, he does as they ask. The consequences of Manuel’s decision are enormous, giving the pic’s last 30 minutes a dramatic charge hitherto lacking.
However, neither the script nor the helmer are able to exploit the dramatic possibilities of the story to the fullest, though the sense of brewing danger at street level is well-captured. Pic suggests that the coup was more like a village feud than a full-scale coup, which is probably how it felt at the time.
The reliable Gutierrez Caba does good work as the little man who becomes the victim of forces he cannot control, though he seems too old for the role. Bolani is convincing as the smiling monster Moreira, and the child thesps are up to par, but Davub fails to translate Severgnini’s suffering into interesting drama.
In the present, Xavi and Rosana exist in a dramatic bubble, and, though their irritable in-bed conversations clearly point up how the politics of the past can shape the passions of the present, they don’t earn their dramatic keep. Visuals are slightly color-drained, helping to locate pic in history.