Fernando, a middle-aged man, leaves his life behind him: his flat, his car – even his son, with whom he seems to have a difficult relationship. He is running away from life and – more importantly – from a severe illness. He gets on his small little boat, packed with enough food for months, and sets sail.
So far, so good. Less good is that he suddenly discovers a stowaway on his boat – a young woman covered in blood. He wants to return to port, wants to contact the coast guard, but she begs him not to. In less than three days, this difficult situation develops into a complex relationship that is put under some additional strain by the tides, the weather, and the meddling of Mario, a rather intrusive acquaintance of Fernando’s.
This film might best be described by saying that it is a road movie on water. There are only the faintest of hints at the story behind Fernando’s journey, or the lives he and the other characters have led so far. El Pampero concentrates on giving us brief glimpses into the characters, and into the ways in which this journey, and their encounter, might change them. Along the way, the film is “flirting” (in the words of director Matías Lucchesi) with thriller elements, or even noir elements.
There is also some symbolism employed in this film, including the name of Fernando’s boat, “Cronos”.
When writer/director Lucchesi decided to embark on creating his own film, his personal interest in sailing delivered the first impetus to have this story take place on the water, and he knew he wanted nature to be a big part of the film. He also studied films with a similar setting, such as Polanski’s Knife in the Water, in order to see what techniques and camera angles one might use.
The film was mostly shot on location in the delta between Buenos Aires and Uruguay. Yet, despite the limited budget, Lucchesi had the interior of the boat copied on a sound stage – complete with movable walls – so that his cinematographer, Guillermo Nieto, actually had the necessary space to shoot some of the scenes which would have been impossible to shoot within the confines of the tiny sailing vessel.
Even with that problem out of the way, employing nature as a core element of the film proved problematic, with water, wind, and rain making the shoot difficult. You would not be able to tell, however, as the end result is a highly accomplished and very good-looking film.
El Pampero is one of those films by young directors you rarely come across: one where everything went right, where everything works. The projects had a very good script by Lucchesi and his co-writer Gonzalo Salaya, and highly competent planning and directing by Lucchesi, for whom this represents only his second feature film. The winning streak continues with Delfina Castagnino’s highly successful editing and the project’s very fortunate casting choices – crucial in a film which relies so heavily on its characters.
Not counting one very small role, the film’s cast only consists of three actors: Julio Chavéz as the lead (Fernando), Pilar Gamboa (as the stowaway), and César Troncoso (whose character, Mario, is erroneously listed as “Marcos” on imdb). All three do an outstanding job in rather demanding roles, but it is especially Julio Chavéz who shines here, because he manages to pull off the many challenging solo-scenes in which he has to convey his emotions, thoughts, and inner turmoil without the aid of words.
A very good and fitting score music rounds off this highly accomplished film, which I would rate at 8.5 to 9.0 out of 10.