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Poor Little Juan

Juan Ramon Duarte, Eva Peron's brother, has been forgotten by history for good reason, and vet Argentine helmer Hector Olivera's stodgy portrait, "Poor Little Juan," -- perhaps inadvertently -- justifies his obscurity. Pic opened to fair B.O. returns in Argentina in June, but isn't likely to work up much heat at overseas fests.

With:
With: Adrian Navarro, Ines Estevez, Leticia Bredice, Laura Novoa, Jorge Marrale, Norma Aleandro.

Juan Ramon Duarte, Eva Peron’s brother, has been forgotten by history for good reason, and vet Argentine helmer Hector Olivera’s stodgy portrait, “Poor Little Juan,” — perhaps inadvertently — justifies his obscurity. A playboy with the spine of silly putty and no moral compass, Juan took advantage of the upside of being Evita’s brother without contributing much in return, and ended his empty life an apparent suicide. Pic opened to fair B.O. returns in Argentina in June, but isn’t likely to work up much heat at overseas fests.

Olivera, who once made bitterly caustic political films such as “Funny Dirty Little War,” has opted for an extremely old-fashioned and uncomfortably stiff style of storytelling in “Juan,” as if his heart weren’t really into humanizing his country’s most famous and glamorous fascist family.

First sign of trouble is an opener with a soupcon of Grand Guignol, as Juan’s (quite fake-looking) head is brought in on a platter to his doctor. Effect is so laughable that it sets a terribly wrong tone. Pic then begins its story in 1948 with Juan (Adrian Navarro) bonking every bejeweled Buenos Aires babe in sight.

Juan maintains a respectable marriage to movie star Alicia (Ines Estevez) while laying as many women a night as he can manage. One date, however, proves more than he can handle: Yvonne (Leticia Bredice), a would-be thesp and aggressive social climber. Yvonne sleeps her way into power and right beside Eva (Laura Novoa), while demanding both “exclusivity” from Juan and that he, in her words, “grow a pair of balls.”

A final confrontation between Yvonne and Alicia should be a delicious cat fight but gets infected by the movie’s general sense of sloth.

Juan’s dealings with his uber-sister and her dictator husband Peron (Jorge Marrale, in commanding form) include authorizing kickbacks from meat suppliers which leads to Juan running afoul of Peron’s generals. Jose Pablo Feinmann’s and Olivera’s script attempts to build tension between Juan’s personal affections for Evita, her lessening patience with him and the generals’ sense that Juan’s more trouble than he’s worth. Unfortunately, these dramatic points are not realized.

Navarro is at times in full Ronald Colman mode as a suave man about town, but he’s given little to work with, and, as a result, there’s no pleasure in his performance. Even the sex seems mechanical, though Bredice bats her eyelashes and delivers conniving glances as the bad girl in Juan’s life. Longtime star Norma Aleandro lends a touch of gravity to Juan’s and Evita’s worrying mother.

The sometimes lavish production was almost entirely lensed on studio sets, which greatly separates pic from the newer Argentine cinema of the streets, the roads and the countryside. Osvaldo Montes’ music is particularly cheesy, with Horace Lannes’ costumes proving a pleasant distraction.

Poor Little Juan

Argentina

Production: An Aries Cinematografica Argentina release (in Argentina) of a Tercer Milenio/INCAA/Aries Cinematografica Argentina presentation. (International sales: Aries Cinematografica Argentina, Buenos Aires.) Produced by Hector Olivera. Executive producer, Dolores Bengolea. Directed by Hector Olivera. Screenplay, Jose Pablo Feinmann, Olivera.

Crew: Camera (Cinecolor), Willi Behnisch; editor, Miguel Perez; music, Osvaldo Montes; production designer, Santiago Elder; set designer, Maru Lopez; set decorator, Ricardo Farfan; costume designer, Horace Lannes; sound (Dolby Digital), Roberto Rodriguez; sound designer, Osvaldo Vacca; assistant director, Carlos Juareguilzo. Reviewed at American Cinematheque, Los Angeles, Nov. 20, 2004. (In Cairo Film Festival.) Running time: 114 MIN.

With: With: Adrian Navarro, Ines Estevez, Leticia Bredice, Laura Novoa, Jorge Marrale, Norma Aleandro.

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