Film Movement // 2009 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // February 9th, 2011
"I swear, we'll get what I promised; I swear."
Uruguay. It's probably safe to assume that, if you were to stop people randomly on the street, not many would know much about the country. In fact, I'd wager most would recite one of two things. Firstly, that Uruguay were winners of the inaugural Football World Cup in 1930 (going on to repeat the feat in 1950); and secondly, they would quote Homer Simpson's comment upon finding Uruguay on a globe, "Look at this country! U R Gay!"
But over recent years, Uruguay has shown itself to have a growing film industry -- a sure way to get your voice heard internationally -- which, thanks to Film Movement, is getting some recognition beyond its own border. One of its latest releases, Bad Day To Go Fishing is the fourth film from Uruguay the company have brought the distribution rights for, and, flaws and all, there's certainly enough here to suggest Uruguay's fledgling industry is one to keep an eye on.
With his manager, and friend, Prince Orsini (Gary Piquer) in tow, washed up wrestler Jacob van Oppen (Jouko Ahola) tours South America, taking on challengers in the wrestling ring to make a living and relive his glory days. But unbeknownst to van Oppen, Orsini has been rigging the matches for years, ensuring "the Champ" never comes up against a serious opponent.
When the duo arrive in the small village of Santa Maria, Orsini plans the usual ruse, but a twist of fate sees van Oppen matched up against a local strongman who -- thanks in no small part to his pregnant girlfriend -- has no intentions of taking a fall. Soon the whole town is anticipating the clash, leaving Orsini risking his credibility, and van Oppen risking his life.
The overwhelming feeling that one has immediately after viewing Bad Day To Go Fishing is one of bemusement. It's certainly not a bad film; indeed, director Alvaro Brechner's debut feature is a handsome piece that does enough to hold the attention throughout. The problem is that, for all the goodwill it generates through its lush visuals and interesting characters, there's just not enough substance to it. The plot -- which I initially assumed to be deceptively simple -- is simply threadbare, and lacks any real developments. Brechner moves the film along at a knowingly slow pace, which though in keeping with its sleepy town setting, only really serves to sap what little momentum the film has. There's a nagging feeling -- admittedly only after the final credits roll -- that suggests Bad Day To Go Fishing would work more effectively as a short.
Though it is clearly the director's intention that the film be focused on Gary Piquer's Prince Orsini, it is a decision that sees the more interesting Jacob van Oppen left with too little screen time; a decision that has nagged away at me since first viewing the film. Admittedly Orsini is a fine character, performed brilliantly by Piquer. Orsini is a shyster with a heart. Though we see him ready to rip off an entire town, we also see him desperate to keep his friend, van Oppen, safe from harm; the closing moments also see his generosity and kindness go beyond this close relationship. But for all that, it is Jacob van Oppen who remains most worthy of dissection. The small moments, such as when van Oppen is seen offstage looking on at other performers, hint at the fears and longings that exist behind his expressive eyes, but sadly these are never explored anywhere near enough. Had the film ventured further in this area, Bad Day To Go Fishing may very well have ended up making a stronger connection with the viewer.
This all leads to the screenplay, which though beautifully written in places is lacking in enough details to make an enduring and truly satisfying film. The film, as written, moves from a to b, but never deviates or throws in any unexpected twists to surprise or excite the viewer. Orsini seems stuck in a continual loop of attempting another con, leaving too little time to explore the reasons for this character trait, or the more enjoyable scenes where his softer side is revealed. So omnipresent is Orsini, that all other characters are resigned to support status at best.
In spite of this, the cast is uniformly brilliant, adding layers to their characters that -- one assumes -- the screenplay doesn't afford them on its own. Jouko Ahola (who was crowned World's Strongest Man in 1997 and 1999) gives a wonderfully restrained performance, instilling so much humanity in to a character who, in lesser hands, could easily have been a one-dimensional strongman. Again, the character of Orsini gets the lion's share of the film, but it is a task that Piquer is more than up to. Though there is a yearning to know more about Orsini beyond his impresario role, Piquer's reading of the role ensures the small moments where Orsini drops his confident façade are riveting.
Matching Brechner's lush visuals, Film Movement's DVD release of Bad Day To Go Fishing contains a strong transfer, with beautifully natural colors matched to a sharp picture. Detail levels are good. The audio is a little less impressive, but only due to the film never having the need to push your sound system. Instead, what we have is a clear, well-balanced mix.
Two of Brechner's short films, "Sofia," and "The Nine Mile Walk" are included on the DVD, and not only offer more of the director's work for those who find themselves enjoying the main feature, but also offer a chance to see his development as a filmmaker. Apart from this, the DVD contains a few trailers and biographies.
Bad Day To Go Fishing is blessed with a warm heart, which is at its warmest when Orsini and Jacob sit down for a talk around the 45-minute mark. Jacob, who yearns for a return to his glory days, and fears slipping into obscurity, unleashes a bout of rage. Seeking to calm his friend and colleague, Orsini opens his heart: "Remember I told you we were a team? Well we're more than a team, we're family." It is the highlight of the film, and leaves the viewer wishing Brechner had pursued more of this. Still, despite its plot-centric shortcomings, it is these small moments that resonate longest, and ultimately dismissed the uncertainty I felt immediately following my first viewing of the film.
It must also be said how beautifully shot Bad Day To Go Fishing is; every frame is a work of art. Brechner, thanks to some excellent lighting, combines sumptuous colors with a great use of shadow to ensure the visuals match the mood of each scene.
Too lacking in real incident to warrant a full recommendation, Brechner's film is nonetheless a pleasant enough diversion that, despite its shortcomings, I found myself enjoying. Too light on plot, and not in-depth enough as a character study, there's just something endearing about the film. Perhaps not suited to mainstream tastes, Bad Day To Go Fishing is certainly worthy of a rental for fans of world cinema.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Films