Another slice of melancholy comedy from Argentine helmer Martin Rejtman (“Silvia Prieto”), “The Magic Gloves” takes an absurdist look at depressed but adaptable Buenos Aireans struggling to make ends meet in a post-crash economy. Sporadically charming and quite amusing, but torpidly paced, “Gloves” will slip easily over the fingers of fest programmers and arthouse auds, but will be a more awkward fit elsewhere.
Couples merge and uncouple; objects are lost and regained; everything goes round and round but always gets gradually worse amid a spiraling plot. Alejandro (Gabriel “Vincentico” Fernandez Capello), is a driver for hire (but not actually a cab driver) who one evening picks up amateur music producer Sergio (Fabian Arenillas) in his clapped-out Renault 12. Thinking Alejandro knows his brother Luis (Diego Olivera), a porn star working in Canada, Sergio invites Alejandro and his g.f., Cecilia (Cecilia Biagini), round for dinner to meet his wife, Susana (Susana Pampin).
Cecilia and Alejandro break up that night, and Alejandro takes Sergio up on his offer to move into Luis’ vacant apartment. Holiday rep Susana befriends the depressed Cecilia, and sends her to a spa in Brazil.
En route, Cecilia befriends flight attendant Valeria (Valeria Bertuccelli), who starts dating Alejandro, while Cecilia herself takes up with anti-depressant addicted dog walker Daniel (Leonardo Azamor). Everybody stays friends, seemingly too busy eking out a living to waste energy getting jealous.
After a visit from some of Luis’ porn-star friends (an unfeasibly lumpen-looking lot), Alejandro, Sergio and Luis invest in a shipment of “Magic Gloves” from China, so called because one size fits all, but also because they’re supposed to have near-mystical powers to make their wearers rich. One of pic’s funniest gags has Alejandro using his electronic key to unlock and borrow various Renault 12s, thinking his car has somehow been renovated, until he realizes the key, like the gloves, fits all the cars.
Some of the patter will play better to auds fluent in Spanish, but Rejtman’s direction is confident enough to pull off what could have fallen flat in other hands. Laconic and deadpan in the tradition of Aki Kaurismaki or early Jim Jarmusch, film favors static set-ups, but in a vaguely interesting way. Ensemble cast deliberately underplays, keeping the emotional pitch low key, with doughty Fernandez Capello holding the center as the lugubrious Everyman loser.
Jose Luis Garcia’s vivid lensing, plus production design and costumes favoring solid blocks of color punch up the comic flavor, as do the bursts of raucous music (European as well as Latin pop) alternating with expanses of silence. Although overall tempo is intentionally slow, last act feels drawn out.