El Bano Del Papa

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/07/2008

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 98 mins

Engaging, well acted and superbly directed drama that often feels like a Uruguayan Ken Loach movie.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Cesar Charlone and Enrique Fernandez, El Bano del Papa (or The Pope's Toilet) is set in 1988, in a small Uruguayan village not far from the Brazilian border. Cesar Troncoso plays Beto, a fast-talking, impressively moustached chancer, who makes ends meet by bicycling contraband across the border, while dodging the officious customs officer (Nelson Lence).

When it's announced that Pope John Paul II will pay a visit to his village, a wave of capitalistic fever descends, as the entire population decide how best to profit from the predicted hordes of Brazilian pilgrims. Most people opt for setting up food stalls, but Beto decides to build a pay-to-use toilet in his garden, much to the consternation of his long-suffering wife (Virginia Mendez) and teenage daughter, Silvia (Virginia Ruiz).

The Good
Troncoso is superb as Beto, creating an instantly recognisable character that we can easily identify with. There's also strong support from Ruiz, whose dreams of leaving the village and pursuing a career as a radio announcer form the film's equally engaging subplot.

The direction is superb: Charlone and Fernandez elicit strongly naturalistic performances from the entire cast, while the rough-edged camerawork frequently makes it feel like you're watching a documentary. In addition, there are moments of humour, suspense and nail-biting tension, as things are constantly on the verge of going horribly wrong, yet you never stop hoping for Beto.

The Great
The film's real strength lies in the fact that you end up rooting for the entire town, as each and every villager plies their life-savings into setting up food or souvenir stalls, with everyone working round the clock in the days before the Pope's visit. This also gives Silvia's dreams an extra layer of poignancy, especially when subtly contrasted with the lives of her pregnant peers.

Worth seeing?
El Bano del Papa is a well made, superbly acted and ultimately heartbreaking drama about hopes and dreams. Highly recommended.

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El Bano Del Papa
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Content updated: 20/06/2018 09:44

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