Review: ‘Amateur’

A mostly kind, sometimes cruel homage to one man's obsession with shooting homemovies, "Amateur" is winsome but unmemorable.

A mostly kind, sometimes cruel homage to one man’s obsession with shooting homemovies, “Amateur” is winsome but unmemorable, a handful of charming moments separated by too much padding. Helmer Nestor Frenkel is clearly in love with his protagonist, affable, vigorous and self-assured 70-year-old dentist Jorge Mario, and would like auds to feel the same way. Mostly he succeeds, but the fact that he is not always sure of the difference between laughing with and laughing at his subject generates occasionally uncomfortable moments. Still, fests like films about films, and this could even lead to limited play offshore.

First 15 minutes are a fast, sometimes witty ride through the history of homemovie-making, a chronicle “with lots of birthdays and weddings, but no funerals,” which finally covers those who used Super 8 to shoot their low-budget features. And brings us to Mario, who was inspired to make films after Jacques Tourneur shot “Way of a Gaucho” near his hometown.

Offered the chance to look back and comment on his own oeuvre of 20-plus films from the comfort of his armchair, Mario becomes eloquent. He claims to have seen 13,986 films, all of them catalogued on his computer. In his opinion, only one of them was bad: John Wood’s “And the Crows Will Dig Your Grave” (1972). Mario’s homemovies, made with friends, include oater “Winchester Martin,” “Brazil 80,” and “Our Fauna,” a nature film from which a brief snatch of voiceover is heard: “The caterpillar has a long, narrow body.”

Pic generates authentic affection for its subject, while repping an homage to the life-transforming power of the moving image. But whenever the docu moves into other areas of the hyper-energetic Mario’s life (being a scoutmaster, stamp collecting), it feels extraneous.

Helmer’s questions sometimes have an ironic edge that’s not always picked up by his interviewee, and it is hard to justify a scene showing this distraught 70-year-old’s fumbling attempts to get the electricity working when his TV breaks down during filming.

A few scenes are reserved for Mario’s presumably long-suffering wife, Ofelia, mostly seen ironing his shirts and never speaking. Irritatingly jaunty score by Gonzalo Cordoba is overused.




A Vamosviendo production. (International sales: Vamosviendo, Buenos Aires.) Produced, directed, written, edited by Nestor Frenkel.


Camera (color), Diego Poleri; music, Gonzalo Cordoba; sound, Fernando Vega, Hernan Gerard, Manuel de Andres. Reviewed on DVD, Madrid, April 27, 2011. (In Buenos Aires Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 76 MIN.


Jorge Mario, Federcio Figueroa, Ofelia Graziano de Mario, Jorge Ferrier, Emilio Sciammarella.

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