The Pope's Toilet and the short film "Video 3000"

El baño del Papa

5 stars out of five
by S. James Wegg
Publish Date: June 30, 2009
Working with religious fervour

Being born into poverty and attempting to rise above it frequently produces the twin byproducts of criminal activity and get-rich-quick schemes. Writers/directors César Charlone and Enrique Fernández draw heavily on their own firsthand knowledge of Melo, Uruguay and nearby Aceguá, Brazil in this cautionary tale of Pope John Paul II’s 1988 visit to the Uruguayan town.

The storytelling is a marvel of visual narrative technique. From the opening sequence of Beto (a bravura performance from César Troncoso) and his bike-riding smugglers (including Mario Silva’s excellent supporting work) trying to avoid border guards and customs officers by—literally and oh so metaphorically—taking the high road to avoid having their cargo searched, taxed or (in the case of premium spirits) seized at the main drag’s checkpoint, to the closing drama of ferrying a sparkling new commode back home before the conclusion of the Pope’s speech, the screen is simultaneously filled with plot twists and brilliant shot making that only serves to give the sparse dialogue more punch. As his own cinematographer, Charlone’s masterful skill assures every frame is directly linked to the delightful, thought-provoking script.

The villain of the piece comes in the form of Nelson Lence playing the corrupt customs agent, Meleyo, with appropriate style and tone. Beto’s deal with this devil will only be questioned by those who have never had the chance to seize the opportunity of a lifetime and do whatever it takes to make a dream come true.

For the man who revels in “using my thinking cap” has a sure-fire scheme to make an instant fortune during the papal visit: build an upscale toilet and charge the worshipping throng to relieve their blessed bowels after the big event. As we learn from television clips and on-the-street interviews, Beto was not alone succumbing to the sudden entrepreneurial spirit: 387 stands—mostly food and drink—were set up by the wide-eyed citizens for the expected busloads of Brazilians to empty their purses and bladders on the special day.

To staff the public convenience, Beto’s long-suffering wife, Carmen (Virginia Méndez is ideal as the stand-by-your-man spouse who stoically washes other people’s dirty laundry to help make ends meet) will talk up the customers (half or full service) while daughter Silvia (Virginia Ruiz, whose visage crafts a wonderful spectrum of emotions) encourages customers to, er, move quickly, then brings in the flush bucket to clear the way for the next patron.

Through deft editing (Gustavo Giani) and frequent intercuts with actual footage, the filmmakers let John Paul unwittingly support their ideas around honest work and the fair treatment of women even as a massive painted slogan (“The working world salutes you”) silently adds another note of thematic irony to the near-docudrama tale.

The original music from Gabriel Casacuberta, Luciano Supervielle and their merry band of minstrels is at one with the extended dialogue-free sequences (the bike race to the bridge is especially fine); the “Chorus of Despair” as the pie-in-the-sky bubbles burst is superb.

Filmmaking seldom gets better than this: here’s to more from Charlone and Fernández. JWR


Short film bonus from Film Movement

The new owner tests the equipment

Video 3000
Jörg Edelmann, Jörn Großhans, Jochen Haussecker, Marc Schleiss, Simon Schleidt
Germany 2006, 5 min.
Five stars

The notion of living life via remote control gets a fanciful treatment from this quintet of creative minds. Animation mixed with humour and a message finds just the right balance between entertainment and art. JWR

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