A film whose main plot point is the spillage of a urine sample may not sound especially alluring, but that’s just what “The Bottle” is. A quietly compelling romantic comedy about the awkwardness between two outsiders in rural Argentina, the movie stakes its claim via its ability to observe accurate detail — both physical and emotional — in the service of a genuinely heartwarming, well-rounded and unpretentious tale. Argentine helmer Alberto Lecchi’s pic earned gongs at the Valladolid fest last fall and went out in Spain mid-April.
Scripter Pablo Solarz wrote Carlos Sorin’s “Intimate Stories,” and this gentle paean to human kindness feels almost as if it had been made by that Argentine director (“Bombon: El perro”), with an extra shot of sentimentality.
Juan Perez (Dario Grandinetti), known as “the Mute,” is a bus driver bordering on simple-minded. Romina (Leticia Bredice) has a mysterious past, lives in a beat-up motor home and finds it hard to relate to the local community apart from the kids she teaches. As a state employee in contact with the public, Romina has been asked to supply a urine sample for a health check: Unable to make the journey herself, she asks Juan, who worships her from afar, to deliver it.
First, the sample is locked for two days in a roadside bar. Having recovered it, Juan then drops it and, embarrassed, substitutes some of his own urine, a ridiculous decision that’s justified later. Cue a series of comic misunderstandings (all exploited to the max), in which Juan claims to be Romina’s husband: The fact that there’s a problem with the sample introduces a new note of melancholy.
Pic’s biggest questions — why Juan is so tight-lipped and why Romina is so embittered — are duly answered. But there’s so much going on in the meantime that they come almost as an afterthought. (A subplot involves Romina’s nephew Luisito (Martin Piroyansky) “kidnapping” a young girl to free her from her father’s violent behavior.
About himself, Juan simply says, “Sometimes, I think badly.” Drawing on the tropes of silent comedy to create his straight-backed, wide-eyed, short-trousered character, Grandinetti, who’s rarely offscreen, effectively makes his unattractive character plausibly attractive to Romina, though he sometimes overdoes the simpleton aspects. Bredice, with her clear, yearning gaze, makes it clear the damage done to Romina may break out at any moment.
Dialogue is minimal but effective. The wilderness of Argentina’s Santa Fe province, through which Juan drives his bus, are captured by lenser Hugo Colace in all their striking bleakness. The score, appropriately, is tinged with hints of spaghetti Westerns.