Mal Dia para Pescar
directed by Álvaro Brechner
Being the centennial celebration of Uruguayan writer Juan Carlos Onetti’s birthday, 2009 turns out to be an auspicious year for the release of a movie adaptation of his short story, “Jacob y el Otro” (Jacob and the Other). Produced with the aid of funding from institutes in both Uruguay and Spain, the lands from which Onetti hailed (Uruguay) and died (Spain), Mal Día para Pescar is a tragicomedy confidently realized.
Mal Día para Pescar (Bad Day to Go Fishing)reflects many themes of the Western: the main characters are two strangers rambling thru South American towns with the no other purpose than of hustling and stirring things up. Prince Orisini, the “fisherman,” (superbly played by Gary Piquer, who also had a hand in the story’s adaptation), as Onetti wrote, “was born, most importantly, to demand much from as many people as possible. With a natural and invincible cleverness, without neglecting his personal goals, without worrying too much about the uncontrollable futures of others.” Orsini passes through life acting as if he is in control, yet he is always waiting for a miracle.
The miracle, or potential of, it turns out, is a washed-up, former world wrestling champion, Jacob van Oppen (Jouko Ahola). Unlike Orsini, van Oppen trudges through life following orders; that is, until the time arrives when he is forced to take control of his future. In the town of Santa Maria, Mal Día shows us this moment. Traipsing from town to town challenging men to wrestling matches for money, Santa Maria will change the pair’s shady routine. Orsini, it seems, does not fully grasp the opportunistic concept behind the popular Spanish proverb, “fishermen make their day in troubled waters.” In other words, where water is much troubled, there is much fish to be had.
At the beginning, the rhythm of the film is paused: the end is told but not the complete resolution. As the story moves along, the suspense advances and quickens with it. The audience is easily fooled by Orsini’s deft storytelling. A doctor, a narrator and Prince Orsini take turns telling their version of the story. Director Álvaro Brechner mixes these perspectives with a smattering of events assembled with mastery. At the beginning of the process, Brechner had imagined the tale as a short film, but with luck on his side he was finally able to make his first feature film, where intrigue and tension are masterfully plotted through to the film’s conclusion. Antonella Costa’s (Adriana) and César Troncoso’s (Heber) interpretations of secondary characters makes the film shine and the music is spectacular: “Funiculí, Funiculà” by Peppino Turco, and “Lili Marleen”’ by Hans Leip amaze.
In Mal Día, Brechner (who, like Onetti, was born in Uruguay but lives in Madrid) controls the seventh art with skill. Classic forms mixed with cowboy Western motifs are indulged, and the plot’s complexity is so taught that he is able to sustain the emotion and surprise until the penultimate scenes. Humor often gives way to harsh moods, but the ending is sublime, as credible as it is imaginative. Mal Día, in short, is agile, tender and above all, supremely entertaining.