Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Álvaro Brechner
Screenplay: Álvaro Brechner
Runtime: 95 minutes.
Cast: Héctor Noguera, Néstor Guzzini, Rolf Becker, Nidia Telles.
Trailer: “Thank God, each day a bit worse.”
Plot: Entering his dotage, Jacob Kaplan worries that he has not met the special purpose in life that his family assured him he would have. A Jewish man who fled Poland for Uruguay in 1942, surviving his family, he has had a moderately successful life in his new home with his loving family. But discovering an elderly German man operating a kiosk at a local beach, Jacob becomes suspicious – enlisting the help of hang-dog ex-cop Wilson Contreras to uncover a man he suspects is a Nazi.
Review: By turns portraying itself as an elder comedy, a black comedy, a family drama, a contemplation of diaspora, Mr. Kaplan never quite decides what sort of film it wishes to be. The results are uneven, producing something that is pleasant enough to watch, funny and touching in places, but ultimately a little baffling. One suspects that the film is meant as a loose, contemporary retelling of Don Quixote with Jacob Caplan (Héctor Noguera) fulfilling the role of chief windmill-tilter, while Wilson Contreras (Néstor Guzzini) accompanies him faithfully as his beer-swilling, pinball-loving Sancho Panza. Their quest to uncover and then kidnap a local German, suspecting him of being a Nazi, is simply a loose structure through which the film explores their odd-couple relationship and their respective family issues. Jacob has long been a source of trouble and eccentricity for his wife of fifty years and their sons; while gentle-hearted Wilson has lost his job and his family, desperately pining for the latter to return.
The beats of this film are not exactly expected – there is little precedent for an Adolf Eichmann-based kidnapping comedy – but neither are they punchy, and the script meanders from one point to the next, leading to the inevitable confrontation with the unsuspecting German they are shadowing. Possibly the latter element is the smartly played of all; leading to some nice surprises at the climax of the film. Unfortunately, writer-director Álvaro Brechner takes a long time getting there. Wilson’s story of disgrace and redemption, while a sub-plot, constitutes the most moving element of the film. This may be down to Néstor Guzzini’s great performance in the role, exuding a puppy-dog sadness and vulnerability with an unexpected amount of dignity. As the audience follows his characterisation of Wilson, they can’t help but want everything to go right for him, and have the man regain his footing. Jacob’s narrative is less interesting, solidifying around the usual difficulties of managing aging gracefully and not wearing out one’s loving family. The film does a sound job of conveying the love between him and wife Rebecca (Nidia Telles), but in a manner that audiences will have seen before.
I can’t help but feel that if the script were only paced a little more briskly, and the film more heavily committed to a single approach,Mr. Kaplan would have been far more successful. I’ll remember it fondly, and possibly never lose the desire to live the good life inUruguay portrayed within the film, but it doesn’t leave one with much to take away afterwards. The story of Jewish émigrés surviving and flourishing in a new country as different and culturally vibrant as Uruguay is one that deserves exploration in greater depth. Álvaro Brechner’s Mr. Kaplan is less interested in that than in relaxing for a while on the warm sands of the shore.
Rating: Two and a half stars.