You know you’re in for a treat when among the opening scenes of a film is one where two mature men face each other across a threshold, say nothing, but with an exchange of facial expressions and body language, tell you that their story is long, and encumbered. That’s acting at its finest, writing with artful restraint, and direction that delivers both without a hitch.
The two men’s faces couldn’t be better matched. Julián’s (Ricardo Darin) is soft, rendered even more expressive by plaintive hazel eyes, and Tomás’s (Javier Cámara) is unyielding, pinioned by two brown eyes that resist whatever comes at him until some stimulus provokes a head twitch or half-smile, to reveal that he’s absorbed another of life’s blows—large or small. We feel the longstanding friendship between them. Julián is an Argentine actor and expat living in Madrid, and his Madrileño friend Tomás, has returned to Madrid for four days, from his adopted home in Montreal, to visit his friend and discuss a serious matter. They have an acquaintance in common, Paula (Dolores Fonzi), Julián’s cousin, who Tomás is reluctant to communicate with, even though Julián is dying of cancer, and she’s Julian’s only palpable lifeline—except for Truman (Troila). Truman is Julian’s loping, jowly-mugged dog.
Though Tomás’s visit is a surprise, Julián quickly inveigles his friend into short appointments around town that involve the gestiones (business arrangements) tied to both dying and coping with what’s left of your life before your expiration date arrives. Truman is witness to the strange behaviors humans exhibit as we triage reality, mining its nuggets from a slurry of lifelong rationalizations—the lies we live and transmit—so as to make the ridiculous reasonable. Among the craziest yet tragically realistic moments is a visit to Julián’s 21-year-old son, who lives in self-imposed isolation from, and in denial of his father’s imminent demise.
In short scenes, kept visually simple but direct, with incidental guitar rills as the only score, we see Julián through the eyes of Tomás. Julián is a semi-impoverished but working actor featured in a production of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” at what looks to be Madrid’s well-known Teatro Zarzuela. We witness Tomás witnessing Julián’s man-about-town joie de vivre, as he greets old acquaintances they run into as they go about the tasks Julián has set out for himself and his old friend.
Though the dog has the award-winning film’s title role, the script resists going sentimental about Truman and prospects for his future. He is more the mascot for the drama that unfolds, connective tissue exuding the animus that keeps the story moving forward, unrestrained by impending loss.
It is a tour de force for Darin, who never disappoints. Cámara moves seamlessly from beat to beat, seeming to reluctantly follow Darin’s every move, yet beating him to the next punch before Darin delivers it. A must-see!