The frozen heart of a moneylender begins to thaw when he’s forced to care for an abandoned baby in bittersweet dramedy “October,” an impressive feature debut for Peruvian co-helming brothers Daniel and Diego Vega. Although a superficial description might suggest something syrupy, pic’s depiction of Lima’s slums is gritty enough to cut the sugar. Meanwhile, the Vegas’ expressionist style, restrained emotional palette and delicate humor herald the arrival of promising young talents. “October” could be a viable contender for niche distribution offshore after a season at fests.
Middle-aged Clemente (Bruno Odar), who lends money to people at high interest rates, is known by everyone in his neighborhood as the pawnbroker’s son, even though his father died long ago. Judging by his dingy apartment, he’s better off than most, but hardly living large, and the worst he does when a client is late on a debt is to break the guy’s window. He seems to have no friends, and visits prostitutes for sexual gratification.
Clemente comes home one night to find someone’s broken in and left a 3- or 4-month-old baby girl in a basket. For awhile, he makes a perfunctory effort to look after it himself (prompting amusing scenes of him holding the baby limply against his shoulder while he deals with clients). Eventually, he hires Sofia (Gabriela Velasquez), a maternal-hearted spinster neighbor longing for companionship, who moves in to look after the baby while Clemente searches for the child’s mother.
In her spare time, Sofia takes part in the weeklong religious procession that happens every October in the streets of Lima. Sequences showing the real procession add vivid color, especially in the film’s striking last scene, while reinforcing the subtle strain of religious imagery throughout, lightly foreshadowing this story of redemption.
In press notes, the Vegas cite contempo Latin American pics such as Uruguayan helmer Juan Pablo Rebella’s “Whisky” among others, along with work by Robert Bresson, Aki Kaurismaki and Jim Jarmusch as influences. This isn’t pretentious name-dropping, because “October” really does feel like a well-homogenized blend of those filmmakers’ styles, especially in its use of running gags (Clemente keeps trying to fob off a forged note) and deadpan thesping.
Compositions are precisely framed, which somehow balances deliberately jarring, semi-comic editing by Gianfranco Annichini that favors hard cuts.