Film Review: ‘Lock Charmer’

Natalia Smirnoff's second feature is a wisp of melancholy comedy with a dose of magical realism.

Lock Charmer Sundance

A dose of magical realism isn’t enough to prevent the modest delights of “Lock Charmer” from fading away as soon as the end credits roll. This wisp of melancholy comedy marks the second feature for Argentine helmer Natalia Smirnoff (“Puzzle”), and it’s easy to imagine the simple concept — a locksmith gains the mysterious ability to intuit the secrets of his clients — adapted and considerably expanded into a broad Hollywood laffer. Otherwise, the Sundance fest premiere won’t unlock much exposure beyond Spanish-speaking territories.

Set in Buenos Aires during a three-week period in 2008 when the city was invaded by an unexplained fog, the story follows 33-year-old Sebastian (Esteban Lamothe) who finds himself dealing with the double whammy of a newfound ability and the news he may soon become a dad. The latter is a bombshell dropped by Sebastian’s casual g.f. of five months, Monica (Erica Rivas). Informing him she won’t seek an abortion, Monica is fully prepared to raise the child on her own and has no interest in trapping Sebastian into family life. Nevertheless, the situation forces Sebastian to confront his own baggage — a chronic inability to commit, and unresolved feelings about his bohemian father (Sergio Boris), currently living quietly outside the city.

That low-key throughline gets a little spark from Sebastian’s special power, which never receives a proper explanation, but which everyone presumes is a strange side effect of the fog. Sebastian isn’t too keen on the ability or the attention it might attract, but he can’t stop himself from blurting out secret truths whenever he’s on the job. That’s how he meets Daisy (charming non-pro Yosiria Huaripata), a Peruvian housemaid who quits her job when Sebastian reveals her boyfriend has been stealing from her boss. With nowhere else to go, she moves in with Sebastian and encourages him to use his talents to help people. Of course, the person he most needs to help is himself.

Although Smirnoff carefully dodges the potential for a love triangle to develop, there’s an easy odd-couple rapport in Sebastian and Daisy’s scenes together — including a quirky ritual involving an egg — which reps the film’s primary pleasure. Lamothe acquits himself well enough as a likable leading man, but the role doesn’t demand very much. Tech credits are similarly unadorned.

Pic’s Spanish language title literally translates as “The Locksmith.”

Film Review: ‘Lock Charmer’

<p>Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema — competing), Jan. 23, 2014. Running time: <strong>77 MIN.</strong> Original title: "El cerrajero"</p>

  • Production: <p>(Argentina) A Tarea Fina production. (International sales: Memento Films, Paris.) Produced by Juan Pablo Miller.</p>
  • Crew: <p>Directed, written by Natalia Smirnoff. Camera (color, HD), Guillermo Nieto; editor, Delfina Castagnino; music, Alejandro Franov; production designer, María Eugenia Sueiro; costume designer, Julio Suárez; sound, Gaspar Scheuer; makeup, Magdalena Puibusque; assistant director, Natalia Urruty.</p>
  • With: <p>Esteban Lamothe, Erica Rivas, Yosiria Huaripata, Sergio Boris, German De Silva, Arturo Goetz, Maria Oneto.</p>