And Baby Makes Two
Octubre (October) evidences the wealth of unknown, new promise out there on both sides of the lens, while, more than most current fare, it recaptures the almost lost joy of plain, well-done storytelling. This tight construction of eighty-three minutes lies in the direction of Robert Bresson, who adds no extraneous matter and carefully choses physical detail to image the inner selves of characters.
The no-budget no-frills Spanish-language entry appears at the Museum of Modern Art and Film Society of Lincoln Center’s fortieth-edition New Directors/New Films prior to New York, then national, release. It is a first feature from Lima co-director/-writer/-producer/-executive producer brothers Daniel and Diego Vega, a year apart in their mid-thirties. “Harsh and laconic” but infused with an austere visual beauty of symmetry and subdued color, it depends on the real warmth of even its coldest inhabitants and a black but stone-face Buster Keatonesque humor not intended by its speakers, such as the stream of honest deadbeat small-timers squirming across the cheap “office” table of barrio moneylender Clemente (Bruno Odar).
That humorless central figure leads a less full life than his desperate fidgeting clients, his personality so one-sided flat that many of them refer to him only as “the pawnbroker’s son.” His precise records handwritten in a notebook and pledged items and cold cash in a metal box below an oven that does not work, he watches a television screen, clips his toenails, and eats mashed hardboiled eggs on a roll.
His single expense is regular joyless visits to pleasant, out-of-shape prostitutes in cribs whose walls are even more peeling and pitted than his. One of his girls, Cajamarquina, changes venue after breaking his lock and leaving a woven basket containing an infant (Sheryl Sánchez Mesco), presumably the fruit of his visits. Neither frowning nor smiling, merely perplexed, he sets about caring for the baby in a makeshift way, even while conducting business.
His one-note face never betrays panic, though he does go so far as to offer forgiveness of debt and an additional three hundred soles if Little Julián Gómez (Víctor Prada) will take the little bundle off his hands. To free himself for continued visits to other whores while searching for the baby’s mother, he pays neighbor Sofía (Gabriela Velásquez) as temporary live-in nursemaid. A seller of homemade turrón [nougat], she is practical, sensual but frustrated, and religious, a blue-purple participant in the city’s October veneration of the Lord of the Miracles, the saint of selfless giving after whom she christens the baby Milagritos, “Little Miracles.”
The hired nanny’s questionings and self-assumption of surrogate wife to non-responsive Clemente are part of the subtle, true humor, even to her attempts to infiltrate his bed and petty revenge for rejection. Unforced and natural, the interaction draws one in without awareness, just as loner Clemente takes a while to realize his own isolation now brightened with human contact beyond financial transactions that include his repeatedly trying to foist a counterfeit two-hundred sol bill on anyone and everyone.
A second link between the man and woman, biological father and acting mother, is Fico (Carlos Gasols), his client and her street friend. This whimsical small-potatoes lottery-ticket vendor is not above swiping a wheelchair to augment the savings needed to bribe nurses and wheel elderly comatose girlfriend Rosa (Norma Francisca Villarreal) out of a hospital and back to their village.
“Miracles come true in October” -- both month and film -- not as melodrama but in the quiet way that reflects the emotions of three adults around an infant. To avoid implausibility the Vegas prefer “parsimony [in method] although that has its risks.” Loneliness becomes connectedness, and, like the characters, viewers are hooked before they are aware. With other “small” films from South America such as Argentine Intimate Stories, Ecuadorian How Much Further, Peru’s The Milk of Sorrow and The Pope’s Toilet from Uruguay, Octubre shows that “small” people there, too, lead quiet lives unaffected by blazoned drug wars, crime, revolutions and earthquakes.
(Released by New Yorker Films; not rated by MPAA.)