By Jude Warne.
Ideal film criticism is that which is as objective as possible. This is to ensure that the reader of the criticism is the recipient of factual information, from which he or she can derive a personal conclusion as to whether or not he or she might like the film being criticized. Objectivity is a lofty goal and requires a sort of self-removal on the part of the individual attempting to achieve it. The film critic is inclined to take his or her own emotional responses to the film in question into account but may ultimately discard them in favor of intellectual reason. When it comes down to the film critic’s personal life, however, how does this attitude serve one? How does this self-removal affect the self? These ideas and ideals are all dealt with, most excellently, in writer-director Hernán Guerschuny’s recent motion picture The Film Critic (originally titled El Crítico).
The film critic here is the prestigious Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd), and he is worn out from film. He has lost total faith and belief in the medium. Everything in Tellez’s life reflects his own feelings about the current state of cinema; everything is “vulgar and unoriginal.” He goes about his days in an ongoing state of malaise – attending press screenings, sighing frequently, hanging out with a slew of fellow disillusioned film critics intent upon out-clevering one another. Amidst a search for a new apartment, Tellez meets Sofia (Dolores Fonzi). He meets her again and again in fact, in a series of coincidental run-ins that fate has seemingly designed in order to bring the two characters together. If this were a standard romantic comedy, its audience would be left to decide for itself either to buy in to the clichés or to reject them. But this film is not standard. It is a romantic comedy about romantic comedies. It is self-reflexive, with the criticism of its own story built directly into the story itself, and this wry storytelling device is the source of much enjoyable comedic scenes throughout.
As Tellez falls for Sofia, he is incredibly suspect of and resistant to the entire infatuation process. The two find themselves at a dance party and Tellez wonders why he sees things in slow-motion. The two find themselves about to embark upon The First Kiss but Tellez takes issue with the ideal scenery: a picturesque nighttime waterfront with a cityscape backdrop, all beneath lustrous moonlight. Then a fireworks display starts and Tellez hesitates to make his move because he disapproves of the sappy aesthetics. Impatient, Sofia makes it for him. In a later scene, Tellez finds himself running in the rain, another romcom cliché that he recognizes as such. We soon realize that he has accidentally found his way onto a movie set implementing rain machines. The film also concludes with a dramatic run to the airport, as Tellez tries to catch Sofia before she leaves the city. These filmic decisions are interesting because they present these clichéd scenes to us, but nearly deprive us of enjoying them, as Tellez is deprived of enjoying them. But this effect is intentional.
The Film Critic teaches us the terrible harm that constant criticism can do, both in the ongoing discourse of art and in the lesser elements of our everyday lives. When the film begins, Tellez is incredibly unhappy, for his constant criticizing of film has led to his constant criticizing of everything, which has removed all of the joy from his life. In attempting to be objective through criticism, he has also become objective about his own life and thus has essentially removed himself from his own life experience. This is the same effect of sophomoric teenagers afraid to look like they’re having too good of a time in any given scenario because it makes them look uncool. Criticism is an attitude choice. In most of what we are confronted with on a daily basis, there is plenty of the unfavorable and plenty of the favorable – and that which our eye is more consistently drawn to will determine the quality of our lives. Tellez is so brainy that he gets in his own way, ruining everything available to him that is good, authentic, pure and grounded in natural human emotion. This renders him extremely lonely. In order to be happy, we need to cultivate healthy relationships with ourselves and with others, and to maintain these relationships, we have to accept the imperfections of others, judging these imperfections to be less important than the overall characters to which they belong. We must choose, most times, to refrain from criticizing. Consistently criticizing is akin to consistently downing arsenic. The criticizer poisons himself over and over.
Tellez’s relationship with Sofia soon begins to infiltrate all areas of his life. He believes that someone has cast a spell on him, that he is stuck in a genre that he does not belong in. All of a sudden, Tellez not only has intellectual responses to the films that he reviews but emotional ones as well, bursting into tears at the end of a seemingly average one. Famous for giving low ratings to every movie that he reviews, Tellez raves about this new picture. His out-clevering critic buddies are then found laughing hysterically at the laudatory writing, particularly his comment that “Life is a passage full of opportunities.” Granted, this is a hackneyed phrase – but there is something about the smug critics’ malicious laughter that brings to light how miserable they must be in their own lives. Because, isn’t life a passage full of opportunities? And isn’t that, like, really great? Why laugh? Doesn’t it feel better to think positively than not? Perhaps this line from Mary Chase’s classic (and Pulitzer Prize-winning) 1944 play Harvey, brought to the big screen by Henry Koster in 1950, sums it up best, in which the protagonist Elwood P. Dowd reflects upon advice that his mother had given him: “‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” Is it possible, one wonders, to be both?
A couple of stretch-y subplots, including one in which a vindictive young filmmaker is determined to get Tellez back for a career-crushing review, lessen the overall ideological precision of The Film Critic. Nevertheless, Guerschuny’s picture is an insightful one, and its commentary on moviegoing and the apathetic nature of film criticism is fascinating and worthy of intellectual consideration.
Jude Warne is a Film International ‘In the Field’ writer.