A fine example of a filmmaker’s engagement with his material, documaker Hermes Paralluelo’s debut feature, “Yatasto,” communes with an extended family that survives by recycling refuse on the fringes of the northern Argentine city of Cordoba. Pic’s politically incorrect sentiments focus on the day-to-day activities, occasionally absurd moments and dreams of a trio of young boys who doggedly labor to help their brood. Solid reception in Buenos Aires augurs good things on what looks like a long and worthy fest trip.
Barcelona-born Paralleulo’s previous, visually impressive short, “Sugarloaf,” was concerned with the solitary existence of the last man at a defunct mining operation. “Yatasto” embraces an entirely different tone and perspective: Here, attention is paid to an extended family group, centered on teen and pre-teen cousins Bebo, Pata and Ricardo, the last of whom boldly announces to the older two kids that he’s “interested in cash.”
And indeed, cash is what the boys’ efforts are all about. Supported by Bebo’s grandmother Chinina, his uncle Canario and his mom, the youths are expected to scrounge through trash and others’ leftovers, and lug them via horse-drawn cart to a Cordoba recycler. Paralluelo, with his script and lensing partner Ezequiel Salinas, builds the film on sustained sequences in which his camera sits on the cart, gazing at the boys (or whomever is driving it), producing magnificent reverse tracking shots through Cordoba’s streets and boulevards.
These aren’t merely elegant pieces of documentary filmmaking, but glimpses into what cinema seldom grasps: the real lives of the poor. It turns out that they can be quite funny, as when Chinina chides Bebo for his careless driving, and they end up having a huge box of items fall off the cart and get strewn all over the street behind them.
Punctuating such sections are well-judged scenes around the families’ homes, where the boys muse on their lives and the horses on whom everything depends. Ricardo dreams of being a jockey, while Beto already seems to be leading the business in lieu of any responsible father figures, most of whom are generally drunk and useless. The title refers to a passing reference to a desirable horse housed some distance from where the families live — an unobtainable object just out of grasp.
On a low budget, production elements are excellent, but never too slick to mar the verite intentions behind the filmmaking, which is more than a little influenced by Pedro Costa’s films set in the Lisbon slums, including “In Vanda’s Room.”