A big-hearted and often hilarious fish-out-of-water tale set in Cordoba, Argentina’s second-largest city, “Clubbing” is a vibrant and bouncy comedy-drama about a middle-class photographer who’s dragged unwillingly into the seamier side of life. Winsome, sharp-edged pic’s standout elements are its delicious humor and memorable characters, well-played across the board. A cinematic love letter to the burg where it’s set, writer-director Rosendo Ruiz’s film is local through and through, but has enough sheer entertainment value to put a smile on the faces of auds beyond Latin America.
Photographer Juan Cruz (Francisco Colja) has been sent to a concert by local singer Carlitos “La Mona” Jimenez to take shots for a forthcoming exhibition. There, he meets and falls for Sara (Yohana Pereyra), but his camera is stolen. He goes to the apartment Sara shares with lanky, shambolic motormouth Maxtor (Rodrigo Savina) and gentle, motherly transvestite Penelope (Martin Rena), and craftily steals his camera back.
But Juan soon becomes far more deeply involved in the Cordoban underworld than he ever planned: Maxtor, Penelope and Sara turn up at his apartment and, with Maxtor holding the photographer at knifepoint, take back the camera, with Maxtor assuring Juan he will return it after Juan makes a few drug runs for him. Juan’s romance with Sara proceeds apace, but now her psychopathically jealous ex-b.f., Laucha (Gustavo Almada), is on his tail.
There’s nothing new about the love-crossing-social-boundaries plotline, but the pic comically insists on the underlying point that if “artists” like Juan exploit society’s underbelly for their work, surely it’s legit for that underbelly to exploit them back. Thus, aud sympathies are evenly distributed in a script willing to find the positives even in an animal like Laucha.
Perfs are first-rate, as is the interaction between the characters as they bicker endlessly. Savina builds Maxtor up into a thoroughly engaging crook, spouting homespun philosophy and wearing shirts as loud as the music he dances to, while Rena brings a lovely, quiet naturalness to Penelope.
Almada, having played Laucha as a semi-articulate animal who talks only with his fists, surprisingly delivers the pic’s key monologue — a powerful, bitter tirade about life on the margins. Juan suffers endless humiliations but hangs on because of his love for Sara, with Colja nicely playing off the absurdity of his situation.
Dialogue is full of the acidly ironic humor considered typical of Cordoba, but it comes over well. Given the range of Cordoban nightclubs in which events unfold, pic reps a homage to the city’s vibrant nightlife, with a couple of scenes shot at concerts by popular local cuarteto (Cordoban music) singer Jimenez.
Lensing is often handheld, bringing an appropriate sense of urgency to a film in which events hurtle from one to the next beyond anyone’s control. But Ruiz’s control is always evident, for example when he startlingly and effectively switches register for the pic’s only lyrical moment, which takes place as the sun rises over the Cordoba skyline. Use of heavy Cordoban dialect means subtitles may be necessary even for Spanish-speaking auds; translations on version caught were substandard.