“La Tigra, Chaco” takes place in a tiny Argentine town with a population smaller than the cast of most Hollywood features, so one might reasonably expect a story rich in ethnographic detail. Instead, apart from numerous scenes of locals cooling down with glasses of terere, this listless “you can’t go home again” story feels disappointingly generic: A big-city boy spends a few days in his childhood village, where he develops a romantic interest in an old friend. A frustratingly low-key telling of a too-familiar tale, Federico Godfrid and Juan Sasiain’s debut is perhaps best left to the fest circuit.
As designed, “La Tigra, Chaco” feels like a conscious rejection of the conventions of mainstream Argentine cinema; its languorous pace virtually begs for some urban excitement. After introducing their relatively unremarkable leading man, Esteban (played so casually by Ezequiel Tronconi, it hardly feels like acting), the directors offer little in the way of characterization beyond the fact that Esteban had once abandoned La Tigra for Buenos Aires, downshifting to reflect the atmosphere of his return visit.
Whereas other helmers might seize such an opportunity to present an impressionistic portrait of the town, Godfrid and Sasiain seek authenticity at the expense of scenic views or anything so conventional as a plot, even foregoing music in favor of the sounds of insects and neighborhood chickens. And so, the camera unobtrusively observes as Esteban exchanges pleasantries with his old aunt (Ana Allende), takes a shower in the primitive bathroom or takes an old rocking chair to be repaired, biding his time until his father’s return.
There’s a primitive appeal to Esteban’s mundane actions, and the character seems to take comfort in these echoes of his old routine, though it’s hard to imagine him giving up the luxuries of urban life to spend more than a few days in this pint-sized municipality. Then again, logic doesn’t factor into the feelings conjured by his reunion with Vero (Guadalupe Docampo), a local girl who has since blossomed into the town beauty.
Vero may be engaged to an apprentice butcher (Federico Ibanez), but the chemistry between her and Esteban is undeniable. Their time apart has clearly made them both exotic in each other’s eyes, and their coy flirtations are the pic’s single greatest pleasure. Esteban spends every free moment he can with Vero, at first respectfully trying to honor her existing relationship but eventually butting heads with her boyfriend in public.
Once again, the directors deliberately avoid the dramatic fireworks that would naturally accompany such confrontations. Godfrid and Sasiain may have their reasons, but their stubborn refusal to orchestrate any sort of narrative tension feels amateurish and ill-advised. Given how much introspection Esteban’s small-town stint allows, his character must surely experience some sort of epiphany, though “La Tigra, Chaco’s” hazy anticlimax insists that auds draw such conclusions on their own.