The subject matter of “The Peddler” is so engaging, the only question is whether helmers Lucas Marcheggiano, Eduardo de la Serna and Adriana Nidia Yurcovich will do it justice. They do. A gentle, simply told account of a remarkable sixtysomething Argentinean man who travels from pueblo to pueblo making movies featuring the locals, pic is a real charmer whose main virtue is the down-to-earth manner in which it tells its extraordinary tale. As an account of a man whose entire life pays homage to the transforming power of movies, this feel-good “Peddler” deserves to sell its wares at international fests.
Tubby, bearded Daniel Burmeister trundles into Benjamin Gould, a town hundreds of miles inland from Buenos Aires, in his beat-up Dodge. His proposal to the local council: to stay in town for 30 days and make a movie, based on one of his stock scripts, starring local people. In return, he will receive food, lodging and a percentage of the gross on the film’s release.
Docu charts the preparation, shooting and screening of Burmeister’s bizarre comedy “Let’s Kill Uncle,” intercut with occasional reminiscences from the director, scenes that show him struggling to repair the recalcitrant Dodge and, less successfully, brief interviews with those around him.
Irrepressible, perpetually hassled and wonderfully humble, Burmeister is an authentically engaging presence as he goes about fixing the 1,001 problems his chosen lifestyle brings with it. He relies on a single camera, and nighttime illumination is accomplished with a flashlight normally used for killing hares.
At one point, he stops a passerby in a car and asks him whether he has 15 minutes to spare to play a priest in a movie. When he tells a group of schoolkids he’s going to make a film, one of them asks, “Are you going to make ‘Ice Age 3’?”
Script and shooting style are happily straightforward, with no attempt made to intellectualize the notion of why pueblo after pueblo — Burmeister has made close to 60 films in all — should choose to take part. It’s mostly just good, often hilarious fun, though one scene, showing an ambulance driver being called away in the middle of a shoot, suggests real life is never far away.
Inevitably, the pic is littered with surreal scenes and anecdotes. The only voiceover comes from Burmeister himself, revealing fragments of his personal history: All these years later, he still can’t understand why his father favored his brothers over him.
At another level, “The Peddler” is an evocative portrayal of life in backwoods Argentina, where time stands still; the spaces are vast and nobody, apparently, has a videocamera of their own.