Review: ‘Country Music’

As easygoing and rambling as its wandering hero, Alberto Fuguet's "Country Music" is a likable tale of a Chilean man trying to get his bearings in Nashville.

As easygoing and rambling as its wandering hero, Alberto Fuguet’s “Country Music” is a likable tale of a Chilean man trying to get his bearings in Nashville. Pic might qualify as the first Latin American-made mumblecore movie, preserving many of that genre’s ambling, talky qualities, and adding the accent of a foreigner attempting to make sense of America, and maybe find a way into the music biz. Distribs typically averse to South American cinema may show interest, as will a long roster of fests.

Fuguet’s previous feature, “Velodrome,” also starring Pablo Cerda — in that film as a handsome guy who loves bicycling around Santiago at night — lacked a basic character interest that comes through in “Country Music.” With this anchor, the film’s looseness acquires a foundation, as Cerda’s Alejandro — jilted by his (unseen) American g.f. — wishes to stay in a country he barely knows but suspects offers him a promise of better things.

Alejandro is a stranger in a strange land — a classic American immigrant willing to work any job (he’s seen cleaning bathtubs, swimming pools, porches and basements) who happens to be vaguely interested in country music. Writer-director Fuguet resists serving up the usual showbiz saga of innocent ambition, more interested, rather, in the cinematic textures of watching characters wander through neon-lit city streets or lying expectantly in bed in cookie-cutter motel rooms, waiting for something to happen.

Looking scruffier and hairier than his clean-cut role in “Velodrome,” Cerda elicits amusement and sympathy as Alejandro struggles with his rough English to explain his predicament to strangers, including a coffee shop waitress (Lori Harrington), a Buenos Aires woman studying at Vanderbilt U. (Karin Davidovich Whitehouse) and a pair of guitar-playing dudes who welcome Alejandro into their house as a roommate (James Cathcart, Jeffrey Novak). During the mumblecore exchanges, the guys manage to denigrate recent Clint Eastwood films and praise Robert Altman — particularly, of course, “Nashville.”

Fuguet finds a talented collaborator in U.S. cinematographer Ashley Zeigler, who creates Edward Hopper-esque pictures in the film’s many nocturnal sequences. Song selection, a mix of country and rock tunes by Gustavo Leon (some performed live during club scenes), brings the project a solid musical credibility.

Country Music

Chile-U.S.

Production

A Cinepata production. Produced by Sarah Childress. Executive producer, Ted Fischer. Co-producers, Alberto Fuguet, Mauricio Varela. Directed, written by Alberto Fuguet.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Ashley Zeigler; editor, Sebastian Arriagada; music supervisor, Gustavo Leon; production designers, Ryan Buckstar, Sarah Reid, Stacy Greenberg; sound (stereo), Russell Sharpe, Levy Nguyen, Pharra Perry, Dean Mengaziol, Sarah Childress, Kristin Park; sound designer/re-recording mixer, Cristian Mascaro; associate producers, Pablo Cerda, Rene Martin; assistant director, James Cathcart. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Film Festival (competing), April 7, 2011. Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Pablo Cerda, James Cathcart, Jeffrey Novak, Cole Kinnear, Karin Davidovich Whitehouse, Ezra Fitz, Todd Hughes, Elle Long, Lori Harrington (English, Spanish dialogue)

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