A gentle political satire set in a remote pueblo in 1980s Argentina, "The Finger" is both an engaging, often amusing portrait of a community on the cusp of change and an attack on human credulity.

A gentle political satire set in a remote pueblo in 1980s Argentina, “The Finger” is both an engaging, often amusing portrait of a community on the cusp of change and an attack on human credulity. A gallery of lovable locals, a deftly managed storyline and a nice sense of the absurd rep the main virtues of a piece that works with admirable restraint and efficiency before slipping into feel-good predictability in its final reel. Pic has been well received at home, and its multiple local references shouldn’t hinder offshore prospects for an item full of human warmth.

Remarkably, the pic has its roots in a true story. Ambitious Don Hidalgo (a Machiavellian, devilish-looking Gabriel Goity) is determined to be voted in as the local councilor, in the first general elections since the end of the military junta. In order for elections to be held, however, the town must have 501 inhabitants, but then Don Hidalgo’s opponent, Baldomero, is murdered, bringing the population down to only 500 souls.

Don Hidalgo persuades Baldomero’s brother, general-store owner Florencio (Fabian Vena), not to sign the death certificate, so the election can proceed. Florencio agrees, but not without vowing revenge; having cut off Baldomero’s finger, he places it in a jar of formaldehyde and swears to bury it in the behind of his brother’s killer.

But the finger takes on a life of its own, moving around in the jar and pointing at things in a way the locals interpret as prophetic. Soon enough, it’s decided that Baldomero’s finger will run in the election as Don Hidalgo’s opposition.

Such surreal hijinks can easily tip over into mere whimsy, but the script mostly keeps things credible by rooting them in an ambience that is believably and lovingly drawn; art director Christian Legare has a field day with the details of Florencio’s store. Many of the pic’s charms appear on the margins, such as the romance between a baffled French tourist (Herve Segata), unable to get away because of the weekly bus that never arrives, and local woman Rosario (Mara Santucho). Thus, the film stands up well as a record of Argentinean life, albeit idealized, in this town that time forgot.

Thesps revel in their parts, with Vena as the dapper Florencio, uncertain about his new role as avenger, squaring off in several beautifully low-key comic showdowns with Goity’s entirely untrustworthy Don Hidalgo. Several minor characters are brought successfully to life, creating sense of a vibrant and intriguingly strange community.

The questionable addition of an after-the-fact running commentary by three old-timers sitting on a bench adds little. Supercharango’s lively, tango-based score is pleasant enough, but laid on too thickly.

The Finger

Argentina

Production

A Primer Plano Film Group release of a Metropolis Films production in association with Aleph Media. (International sales: Primer Plano Film Group, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Ivan Posse Molina, Andres Korn. Executive producers, Sebastian Aloi, Mariana Fonseca, Santiago Bonta. Directed by Sergio Teubal. Screenplay, Carina Catelli, based on a novel by Alberto Assardourian.

Crew

Camera (color), Christian Cottet; editor, Hernan Garbarino; music, Supercharango; art director, Christian Legare; costume designer, Goga Dodero; sound (Dolby Digital), Leandro de Loredo. Reviewed on DVD, Madrid, June 13, 2011. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Fabian Vena, Gabriel Goity, Martin Seefeld, Mariana Briski, Roly Serrano, Mara Santucho, Herve Segata.

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