In the old days, Ana had been the girlfriend of Ricardo’s best pal, Ernesto (Dario Grandinetti), a more serious type who abandoned her to pursue his utopian ideals in post-revolutionary Cuba. Ernesto became a serious journalist, and his interest in social issues never flagged, even if circumstances — especially more than two decades of military rule in Argentina — dampened his progressive
fervor. Ricardo might be the life of the film, but Ernesto is definitely its central figure. (Filmmaker Eliseo Subiela went to Cuba in the ’60s).
When Ernesto meets Ana again, the nostalgia for lost youth revives her: She even begins jitterbugging with her husband. Ernesto doesn’t return the sexual interest, because he has just fallen in love with a Cuban cellist, Vera (Marilyn Solaya), studying in B.A. Strangely enough, Sebastian (Joaquin Bonet), Ricardo and Ana’s twentyish son, is an introspective aspiring poet, in temperament and
physique more like Ernesto than his own father.
Ricardo also contacts two other members of their teen gang, one a successful businessman, the other a down-and-out worker for the national railway. To good,
humorous effect, Subiela keeps flashing back to their wild youthful antics, like buying condoms for the first time, trying to get it on with girls in the kitchen, making multiple sex jokes, and driving around in an old hearse. Most of
the flashbacks contain vivid party scenes in which the awkwardness of the raging hormone years is tempered by such classics as “Put Your Head on My Shoulder.”
The 53-year-old Subiela, best known for the 1985 “Man Facing Southeast,” had a triple bypass in February 1995, and “Wake Up, Love” is clearly a therapeutic work in which he reconciles his serious, socially conscious side (Ernesto) with the joie de vivre one feels around simple pleasures (Ricardo). “Probably Ricardo was the wisest of us all,” Ernesto says. “Life was a party.” As Ricardo himself
says, “Those who think a lot are the most unhappy people.” This is a strong confession, given Subiela’s recurring references to the period of dictatorship
(1962-84) during which the flashbacks occur.
The beauty of the political referents here is that they are never didactic: teen Ana’s old grandmother gives a hilarious running commentary on a succession of dictators on TV. Especially moving is the realization that Sebastian will carry on the progressive intellectual tradition in Argentina that the rightists tried to eradicate.
Only weak point in the film’s weaving of politics into a lighthearted storyline is the excessive symbolic weight put on the Cuban Vera, who tells Ernesto, “Paradise slipped out of our hands.” Also out of synch with the tone of
the film is the middle-age trap that Ernesto falls into of obsessing over a babe half his age. Vera is essentially a non-character, only a function of developing Ernesto.
This well-crafted movie cost only $ 1.5 million, and, unusual for a good Argentinean film, had no foreign co-producer. The cinematography, editing and production design are exceptional. Its most haunting moments are the muffled
fades, which sound like chords put through a wind tunnel, on the old ’50s classics (they came more than a decade late to Argentina) when the film returns from past to present. Mario Benedetti’s profound poetry is occasionally read on the soundtrack, a poignant counterpoint to the boyish pranks of teens and middleagers who have survived more than two decades of political hell.