A low-key Argentine drama that spins a minor boss-employee contretemps into a moral fable.

A low-key Argentine drama that spins a minor boss-employee contretemps into a moral fable, “A Matter of Principles” follows the cinematic rulebook too closely for its own good. Reuniting the Federico Luppi-Norma Aleandro thesping tandem that worked so well in 1996′s “Autumn Sun,” this traditional, worthy and ultimately unexciting pic is all about its perfs. The dependable cast duly delivers, but it never quite shakes off its simplistic, didactic air. Based on first-weekend B.O., pic is unlikely to replicate “Sun’s” Spanish success, but limited pickups are likely.

Adalberto (Luppi) has spent years underachieving at his job as an administrative clerk. His new boss, Silva (Pablo Echarri), a prototypical yuppie, has little time for his staff, but does have a tender side he keeps well hidden, spending his free time vainly pursuing his ex-wife, Adriana (Monica Antonopulos), in order to spend more time with their infant daughter.

Silva has a collection of old magazines, a near-complete set missing just one copy, and it so happens Adalberto has the missing number. But Adalberto won’t part with the mag because it features a photo of his beloved father. “There are things,” he announces to Silva during a board meeting, “that money can’t buy,” and the rest of pic traces the conflict between Adalberto’s decency and Silva’s acquisitiveness, piqued by his wounded pride.

Adalberto’s wife, Sarita (Norma Aleandro), however, doesn’t defend him. She wants a better life, and to be able to send their adopted son, Rolito (Emanuel Gardini), on a rugby tour to Australia. Instead, Adalberto finds an unlikely ally in sexy colleague Ines (Maria Carambula).

Luppi, who brings a touch of distinction to every role he plays, does well to prevent Adalberto from coming across as a self-righteous bore, but Aleandro nearly goes over-the-top when reaching for laughs. Echarri fails to fuse Silva’s power-hungry and insecure sides into a rounded whole.

Overweight, screen-zapping Rolito is a clumsy caricature of the younger generation and suggests that little of Adalberto’s much-vaunted decency has been spent on raising his own offspring, which also includes the tacked-on character of an estranged daughter. Perhaps the idea is to show Adalberto as no hero, but the film’s success depends on the aud believing that, in his quiet way, he is.

Plotwise, the moral dilemma is one with which auds can identify, but it doesn’t go anywhere interesting. “This isn’t a Hollywood film,” protests Sarita, but if she’s talking about facile moralizing, then she’s wrong. Things come dangerously close to parody over the final reel, as the script struggles to convincingly wrap up its reassuring myth that having money will not make you happy, but being decent will.

Away from the main storyline, pic is dotted with little pleasures, often from Adalberto’s friends Reiner (Pepe Novoa) and Angelito (Oscar Nunez) spouting advice he’d rather not hear, like Reiner’s quip “Infidelity is the foundation of marriage.”

Yarn is adapted from the same-named story by the late writer and cartoonist Roberto Fontanarrosa, wildly popular in Argentina.

A Matter of Principles

Argentina

Production

An A Contracorriente Films (in Spain) release of a Linea de Tres Producciones production. (International sales: A Contracorriente, Barcelona.) Produced by Leonardo Di Cesare, Ruben Pitu Fernandez, Rodrigo Grande. Directed by Rodrigo Grande. Screenplay, Grande, Roberto Fontanarrosa, based on a story by Fontanarrosa.

Crew

Camera (color), Pablo Schverdfinger; editors, Cesar Custodio, Miguel Perez; music, Ruy Folguera; art director, Marcelo Martin; costume designer, Paola Delgado; sound (Dolby Digital), Federico Billordo, Martin Grignaschi. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, March 15, 2011. Running time: 115 MIN.

With

Federico Luppi, Norma Aleandro, Pablo Echarri, Maria Carambula, Pepe Novoa, Oscar Nunez, Monica Antonopulos, Mabel Pessen, Oscar Alegre, Mario Vidoletti, Emanuel Gardini.

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