Summer romance and midlife crisis fuse smoothly into a subtle and affecting whole in Paula Hernandez’s quietly compelling (if appallingly titled) “One Love.” Well-crafted, understated and skilled in its nuanced handling of familiar materials, this deceptively unremarkable tale about a trio of friends reunited is made special by fine perfs from six actors, a script built on ellipses rather than explicitness, and most of all its evocation of emotions that will be uncomfortably familiar to anyone entering middle age. Pic has done better business at home than Hernandez’s previous work and merits exposure beyond Spanish-speaking territories.
Like the helmer’s previous pic, “Rain,” “One Love” explores what happens when characters from different worlds are thrown together. But there’s one key difference: This time the characters are meeting after a 30-year break.
Flashbacks show young Bruno (Alan Daicz), spruce and reflective, and the earthier, more physical Lalo (Agustin Pardella) as inseparable buddies in a late-1970s rural Argentinean pueblo. One summer, romance appears in the lively, flirtatious form of Lisa (Denise Groesman), whose free spirit seduces both boys and opens up a nervous rivalry between them. But one day, Lisa disappears without trace.
Pic smoothly shuttles between these events and 30 years later, when Lisa (singer Elena Roger, making an accomplished screen debut) turns up at the home of Bruno (now played by Diego Peretti), now a successful screenwriter married to Nora (Valeria Lois). Nobody, least of all Lisa, seems sure about why she’s actually there, but she suggests a trip to their old stomping grounds in search of Lalo (Luis Ziembrowski), now divorced, gruff and slightly lost in life, his bouncing curls long gone.
The flashback scenes wonderfully evoke the lazy teenage rhythms of hot summers where there’s little to do except swim and figure out how to lose your virginity. The younger thesps do fine work — the expression on Daicz’s face as Lisa sheds her clothes before him is unforgettably hilarious — and the dialogue is terrific on teen insecurities, although some scenes are over-familiar.
Pic suggests it’s not as easy to put the past behind us as we like to pretend, and that sometimes it may be best not to. It all falls perfectly into place in one 10-minute tour-de-force sequence in which the older trio converse around a cafe table at night. It’s during this superbly acted and scripted scene that the simmering emotions of what has happened in the years between are allowed to quietly emerge, a fine example of how to make dramatic shorthand work.
Thesps duly deliver individually and together, and the chemistry keeps fizzing in both time periods, although the older characters are only borderline plausible as their younger counterparts. Peretti, whose comic features have regularly been seen in comic roles, is lively and watchable. Roger plays the older Lisa as a woman whose apparent confidence is undermined by the fact that she’s never been allowed to find her place in life, a problem whose roots lie in Argentinean political history. But it’s Lalo who’s fallen the farthest, and Ziembrowski’s marvelously controlled, intense perf never lets us forget that life has taught him to be suspicious of all emotion.
Attractive, grungy songs by Axel Krygier mix with more traditional piano-based fare that’s very pretty but sometimes unnecessarily underlines mood.