The Distinguished Citizen (Argentina)

by Gabriel Lerman November 6, 2016
A scene from "The distinguished citizen"

Arco Libre

In the latest film by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn the story begins as celebrated Argentine expatriate writer Daniel Mantovani (Oscar Martinez) receives the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech, in front of the king and queen of Sweden, he expresses his scorn for such a recognition which he considers the end of his career, since from now on he will be forever regarded as a “Nobel Prize Winner”, which will generate incredible expectations for his future works.

Curiously, what has helped this indie film to become a sensation has to do with an award. Martinez emerged as the big winner at the Venice Film Festival, where we shared the Volpi Cup with Emma Stone. It was the first time ever that a Latin American actor has been awarded the prestigious prize (obviously it's also the first time an Argentinian actor received it), and the third occasion in which a film in Spanish won in that category in Venice, after Javier Bardem got it twice, in 2000 for the bilingual Before Night Falls and in 2004 for Mar Adentro. After Venice, The Distinguished Citizen became a hit in the local cinemas where it amassed 3 million dollars and was selected as Argentina's entry to the Oscar.

In the film, after Mantovani’s Nobel win, he receives many invitations in his huge house in Barcelona, the city where he has been living for the past 40 years. He discards them with ease but when one comes from Salas, his hometown in the vast province of Buenos Aires, a few hundred kilometers from the capital, he cannot resist. He hasn't been there since the day he left, even if he used it  as the basis for his novels. Ignoring the advice of his trusted secretary, he embarks on a journey to his past, and when he finally reaches Salas after a complicated trip, he is received as a prodigal son by the mayor. There, he reconnects with his childhood friend, Antonio (played by Dady Brieva, a famous comedian, in a very restrained role), and Irene (Andrea Frigerio), the girlfriend he left behind who is now married to Antonio. These are the only links left to his childhood and teenage years, but they are enough to generate a conflict that will heat up as the local people start to clash with the exiled hero whom they deem less than sufficiently respectful.

The authors were perhaps inspired in Manuel Puig, the celebrated Argentine writer who penned Kiss of the Spider Woman, and his own quarrel with the inhabitants of his hometown General Villegas, furious because he used real stories from his childhood in his novels. The Distinguished Citizen is at once a metaphor for what's going in Argentina right now and a study of the visceral and sometimes contradictory relationship between fans and celebrities, a story made to order for Martinez, a revered actor who as a youngster was part of the cast of The Truce, the first Oscar nominated film from Argentina, which lost to Amarcord in 1975.