A film of choice moments rather than a fully realized work, Gonzalo Tobal's debut feature, "Villegas," largely functions as a platform for two rising Argentine indie-cinema stars, Esteban Lamothe and Esteban Bigliardi.

A film of choice moments rather than a fully realized work, Gonzalo Tobal’s debut feature, “Villegas,” largely functions as a platform for two rising Argentine indie-cinema stars, Esteban Lamothe and Esteban Bigliardi. Less resonant than it could have been, this hybrid road movie and family drama casts the pair as chippy cousins nearing their 30s, venturing from Buenos Aires to their granddad’s funeral in the sticks. Characters remain as underdeveloped as the situation, leaving an empty feeling that won’t go over well with prospective buyers.

It’s clear from the start which of this duo has his act together: Esteban (Lamothe) is blessed with an apparently secure job and personal life, while Pipa (Bigliardi) is a moody rock ‘n’ roller who’s just quit his band. The immediate character contrast is too neat by half, but fortunately, Tobal’s writing doesn’t use cute, facile dialogue to underline the cousins’ differences.

Rather, the pic’s first third, as the guys ramble down the highway, with a few detours, en route to the family farm, includes a few scenes illustrating the small and petty ways in which Pipa increasingly annoys Esteban, building to a big blow-up. This carefully calibrated dramatic development is dropped once they arrive at the funeral, at which point “Villegas” (named for the northern Argentine town where their grandfather is buried) loses energy and focus.

The family events, including the funeral, have no impact, and the only relative to leave any impression is Clara (Lucia Cavallotti), a smart young woman who enjoys hanging out with Pipa and yearns for the big-city excitement of Buenos Aires. A visit to the farm, seemingly of interest to Esteban, turns out to be more for the benefit of the patiently panning camera. Even a striking image of the cousins at play in a silo full of corn kernels fades in a scene that, like the pic as a whole, goes nowhere. The solid lead thesps struggle to bring nuance to their fairly flat roles, with Lamothe working hard to be patient until it breaks, and Bigliardi aiming not to overdo the slob-rocker shtick.

Under various daytime and nighttime conditions across a wide range of locales and conditions, Lucas Gaynor’s digital cinematography imbues the pic with a handsome sheen, while Delfina Castagnino’s editing maintains an appropriately lazy pace. Nacho Rodriguez Baiguera cleverly incorporates Pipa’s songs into the overall score, but the musical highlight is a passage in which the rocker listens to Marlene Dietrich’s recording of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Villegas

Argentina-Netherlands-France

Production

A Rei Cine/PBK Cine/Tresmilmundos Cine presentation. (International sales: Urban Distribution Intl., Montreal.) Produced by Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Galleli, Juan Villegas. Co-producers, Trent, Thierry Lenouvel. Directed, written by Gonzalo Tobal.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Lucas Gaynor; editor, Delfina Castagnino; music, Nacho Rodriguez Baiguera; production designer, Julieta Dolinsky; costume designer, Sandra Fink; sound (stereo), Francisco Pedemonte; sound designer, Pedemonte; re-recording mixers, Jan Schermer, Arno Willemstein; associate producers, Jose Tobal, Matias Galera; assistant director, Mariano Turek. Reviewed at Buenos Aires Film Festival (competing), April 16, 2012. (Also in Cannes Film Festival -- Special Screenings.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Esteban Lamothe, Esteban Bigliardi, Mauricio Minetti, Paula Carruega, Lucia Cavallotti.

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