Last night, I kicked off the film festival in delightful fashion by seeing The Finger, an Argentinian film.
In my prep before the film, I described the film as a dark political comedy. This actually mischaracterized the film. The film is not dark, but rather delightfully absurd. It is also not political, but rather cultural, a celebration of life in a provinical town in Argentina.
The film tells the story of a small town’s first mayoral election in 1983, as the dictatorship in Argentina was breaking up. The small community, with the recent birth of a child, has 501 residents, and qualifies as a town, which can have a mayoral election. Most people expect a local man, Baldomero, to run for mayor, until he is murdered. Now, I thought that he was murdered by his political rival, but he was actually murdered by his romantic rival, the local butcher, who caught Baldomero and the butcher’s wife having sex.
The main character, Florencio, upon finding his brother’s corpse, impulsively cuts off his brothers index finger. (Baldomero used to tap his finger rather compulsively.) Florencio holds up the finger and swears, “I will find the man who murdered you Baldomero, and see him hanged. Then I will shove this finger up his ass.”
When Florencio discovers that the butcher killed his brother, he brings the butcher to the town square, where the townspeople wait with torches. (Yes, torches.) As they try to decide whether or not to lynch the butcher, Florencio holds up the finger, preserved in a jar, and says that the finger will tell them what to do. Slowly, the finger points up. “He wants us to hang him from the terrace!” someone shouts. “No, he’s pointing to the heavens. He has forgiven the butcher, and we must forgive him too!” This begins the townspeople’s consultation of the finger for advice on all sorts of things, including health issues.
The film is far less a political comedy than a tribute to small town life in Argentina. The town seems about the same size as Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show, and seems very similar. A bus drives through the town a couple of times a week, and it often doesn’t even bother to stop. The locals are loyal to their local traditions, with a charming mix of superstition. At one point in the year, the townspeople have a procession in honor of the Virgin. Their town’s local statue is carried on a cart, and the people remark at how raidiant she looks. “Well, she’s have a reprieve this past year, we’ve been consulting the finger.”
The movie does involve politics and elections, but the movie is less about the elections than about the small town. While the beginning of the movie refers to life in a small town as Hell, it seems almost the opposite. The people are simple, but not necessarily stupid; they know how to outsmart the town’s leading bully. They are closeknit, but welcoming of strangers. A Frenchman is trapped in the town, and the people welcome him with open arms, (literally, in the case of the women.)
None of this is to say the movie is perfect. I had a problem with the pace of the movie. The movie was slow starting, and it dragged at times. This keeps the movie from getting the top score in my book.
Despite that, the film was still a charming and funny look at life and politics in small town Argentina, which seems at once new and familiar.