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Posted: Tue., Mar. 11, 2003, 4:43pm PT
 
Monkey Business
Negocio Redondo 
(Chile)

 
A Roos Films production. Produced by J.J. Harting. Directed by Ricardo Carrasco Farfan. Screenplay, Farfan, Gerardo Caceres.
 
With: Sergio Hernandez, Luis Dubo, Emilio Garcia, Carmen Disa Gutierrez, Mariana Loyola.
Spanish dialogue.
 
By RONNIE SCHEIB
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On the surface, "Monkey Business" looks like another trio-of-bumbling-amateurs caper so common among low-budget indies these days. But behind the raucous facade, documentarian-turned-feature helmer Ricardo Carrasco Farfan fashions a subtle comedy that quietly confounds expectations at every turn. Well-traveled on the fest circuit, pic has many virtues (including a standout perf by plug-ugly lead Sergio Hernandez) but fails to press a sufficient number of "prestige" buttons to gain an arthouse run. Cable future looks good.

After a long absence, El Negro (Hernandez) returns from Santiago to his home town to attend his mother's funeral. Negro, a dour little guy, seems curiously unaffected by his mother's passing, and markedly ill-at-ease with all the effusive tears and expressions of grief.

It's hard to know whether Negro is a two-bit criminal on the lam or some Chilean version of Camus' "Stranger," wracked with existential angst. In truth Negro fancies himself a budding capitalist.

When, after the funeral, a couple of childhood friends pitch him a business deal which involves buying seafood on the coast and selling it locally for Holy Week, he's persuaded to invest his small nest egg and smaller stock of financial wisdom in the venture.

The threesome--Negro, the skinny excitable Chico Mario (Luis Dubo) and the fat, genial Guaton Molina (Emilio Garcia)-- sets out in Molina's dilapidated truck which, predictably, breaks down a few hours out of the village. Indeed, the whole venture proceeds via strict adherence to Murphy's law.

However, almost imperceptibly, each stage in their slide to disaster turns out to be if not precisely a blessing in disguise, at least a step in the right direction. The truck breaks down near the house of a local mechanic -- a lovely divorcee (Carmen Disa Gutierrez) to whom Negro is strongly attracted. At every point in the proceedings, things threaten to go bad, not least among them the unrefrigerated fish. Carrasco keeps setting up a cynical payoff that both the urbanite Negro and his rural compadres secretly expect to doom their endeavors, only to have people matter-of-factly hold up their end of the social contract.

Pic never tips its sociopolitical hand with any humanistic speechifying or moral underlining. Perhaps more than anything else, it's the road trip through the dusty, magnificent Chilean countryside, casually limned by Jose Luis Arredondo's arresting lensing, that measures the interior distance that Negro travels.
 
Camera (color), Jose Luis Arredondo; editor, Juan Andrea Condon; music, Carlos Cabezas; production designer, Victoria Achurra; sound designer, Roberto Munoz. Reviewed at La Cinema Fe, New York, Feb. 15, 2003. Running time: 96 MIN.
 

 

 

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