4 October 2014 | Sergeant_Tibbs
Uruguay's Oscar submission is fun and thoughtful on the values of past and purpose.
Uruguay's submission for Best Foreign Language Film Mr. Kaplan is certainly a treat for any ticket holders. It's a film that takes itself seriously enough to have weight and depth to its characters and themes, but not seriously enough to still have fun while doing it. After all, the plot is about two men; one an ageing Jew in an existential crisis and the other a defeated but kind-hearted ex-cop and their plot to kidnap an escaped Nazi putting him to trial in Israel for his past crimes. It examines the value of this salvation and confronts the demons that haunt our past.
With director Álvaro Brechner's pair of bumbling amateur detectives, Mr. Kaplan feels Alexander Payne-esque with its quirky but grounded sense of humour and a human substance to a slick cinematic style. That's the balancing act that the film achieves that makes it a cut above the rest. It bounces between the two key characters and its main plot with ease, slowly developing and progressing their motivations. While setbacks in other films can feel unsatisfying, Mr. Kaplan makes those stalling moments feel essential to creating a richer more meaningful picture.
However, it's more sprightly than Payne's work, and delightfully so. It's unafraid to break rules as a homage to Western showdown demonstrates the friction between its protagonist and antagonist, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet type montages deliver colorful exposition. Fortunately, it never feels indulgent, and that's thanks to how it always brings up the profound ideas on the meaning of our lives during the farce. What is a life well lived? What if the thing we were meant to do with our lives was in our final years? It's almost a comforting idea.
Héctor Noguera's titular protagonist Jacob Kaplan gives a great nuanced and sympathetic performance despite the character's suspicious and mean-spirited nature. Although he's motivated by a vague vengeance, his compassion for others show the human beneath. However, the film's most valuable player is Néstor Guzzini as Contreras, Kaplan's partner in his mission and chauffeur. Guzzini brings a gentle and tender weight to a character downtrodden too often and makes it easy to invest in his plight. They make a wonderful twosome, both in their comic and tragic moments.
Sometimes the film can feel too silly as it reaches for obvious gags, but most of the humour is natural and dry. While its final stretches are quite rocky compared to the rest, it recovers nicely and justifies itself in a quietly poignant way. It's a really attractive and finely produced film with sizzling blues and golds in the photography, particularly at the very tempting beaches. I would not be surprised to see it up on the Kodak theatre podium beating this year's popular grittier contenders based on how easy and rewarding Mr. Kaplan is to watch. I'd be cheering for it anyhow.
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