A Film Critic Gets Meta (As Does Ours) In 'The Film Critic (El Crítico)'

A Film Critic Gets Meta (As Does Ours) In 'The Film Critic (El Crítico)'

2:21pm May 15, 2015
The romance between Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) and Sophia (Dolores Fonzi) is a checklist of cliches that the titular character would hate.
The romance between Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) and Sophia (Dolores Fonzi) is a checklist of cliches that the titular character would hate.
Courtesy of Music Box Films
  • The romance between Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) and Sophia (Dolores Fonzi) is a checklist of cliches that the titular character would hate.

    The romance between Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) and Sophia (Dolores Fonzi) is a checklist of cliches that the titular character would hate.

    Courtesy of Music Box Films

  • Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) is pretentious enough that he thinks in French, even though he's from Argentina.

    Victor (Rafael Spregelburd) is pretentious enough that he thinks in French, even though he's from Argentina.

    Courtesy of Music Box Films

A film critic doesn't often have to review movies about film critics — probably a good thing — but sometimes, as with Hernán Guerschuny's postmodern rom-com The Film Critic (El crítico), there's nothing to be done. That's also a good thing, as it turns out.

The Film Critic (El crítico) centers on Victor (Rafael Spregelburd), a bearded curmudgeon who reviews films for an Argentine newspaper and is a definite grouch when it comes to the kind of movies most people like. Car chases, explosions, comedies he can do without. Give him a classic from the French New Wave. In fact, he's pretentious enough that when he thinks to himself in voice overs, he thinks in French. (Spanish, he says without evident irony, makes him sound artificial and judgmental.)

Judgmental, he certainly is. Settling down in a screening room, he's already conjuring up the snark he'll spout over coffee to his fellow critics, especially if the film in question is a romantic comedy. He loathes those and happily shreds their cliches for his 16-year-old niece: the couple with chemistry, the casual encounters that are forced and ridiculous, the swelling strings when they look at each other, the fireworks when they kiss, the disagreements because of misunderstandings, the walks in the rain — could anything possibly be sillier?

And then, Victor meets Sophia (Dolores Fonzi) while looking for an apartment, and because she seems to want the apartment, too, he has to keep running into her. And to his horror, his life starts turning into a romantic comedy. Before long, he's quoting Jerry Maguire to her, and when she leans in for a kiss ... fireworks!

That's not all (not by a long shot, if you'll pardon that expression). Victor's whole world goes movie-meta: He's writing a screenplay and putting scenes in it from the romance he's living. He discovers that he's being secretly filmed by a filmmaker he once trashed.

And he gets so distracted by all that, he accidentally races into the middle of a big movie's location-shoot and messes it up. Critics often feel they're living, eating and breathing movies when they see more than 300 a year; this guy actually is ... and watching him, I almost knew how he felt.

Full disclosure: The Film Critic (El crítico) is set in Buenos Aires and I have family in Buenos Aires, so I go there a lot. Victor watches films in a screening room that I've actually sat in. And while my Spanish isn't good enough for me to hobnob with critics there, I confess that I did sometimes snort as Victor does at romantic comedies.

And then, also like Victor, I had my comeuppance when I met the love of my life, and found myself choking up a few days later at a preview of The Princess Bride. So you will not hear me snorting at this romantic comedy, even though it's available not just on big screens but on video-on-demand (something Victor would doubtless call a betrayal of all things cinematic).

The Film Critic (El crítico) strikes me as comically exaggerated, certainly, but not inaccurate. Let's call it a gentle wake-up call for reviewers who see themselves as movie gatekeepers rather than movie analysts. And — cue the strings — let's also call it an entirely winning romance.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Every so often, you sit down to watch a movie and you're faced with a character who hits close to home. Our critic Bob Mondello experienced that when he watched a new comedy called "The Film Critic."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Victor reviews films for a newspaper in Argentina and is a definite grouch when it comes to the kind of movies most people like - car chases, explosions, comedies - he's not interested. Give him a film from the French New Wave any day. In fact, he's so pretentious that when he thinks to himself he thinks in French...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FILM CRITIC")

RAFAEL SPREGELBURD: (As Victor, speaking French).

MONDELLO: ...Even though his native language is Spanish. Settling down in a screening room, he's already conjuring up the snark he'll spout over coffee to the other critics, especially if it's a romantic comedy - he hates them. He can rattle-off the cliches.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FILM CRITIC")

SPREGELBURD: (As Victor, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: To his 16-year-old niece, he lists them all - the couple with chemistry, the casual encounters that are forced and ridiculous, the swelling strings when they look at each other, fireworks when they kiss, we don't understand what she sees in him, they have a disagreement because of a misunderstanding, they walk in the rain - it is silly, silly, silly. And then, Victor meets someone, Sofia, while looking for an apartment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE FILM CRITIC")

DOLORES FONZI: (As Sofia, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: And because she seems to want the apartment too, he has to keep running into her. And to his absolute horror, his life starts turning into a romantic comedy. Before long, he's quoting "Jerry Maguire" to her. And when she leans in for a kiss...

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

MONDELLO: Fireworks?

(SOUNDBITE OF FIREWORKS)

MONDELLO: And that's not all, not by a long shot, if you'll pardon that expression. Victor's whole world goes movie meta. He's writing a screenplay and putting scenes in it from the romance he's living. He's being secretly filmed by a filmmaker he once trashed. And he gets so distracted by all that, that he accidentally races into the middle of a big movie's location shoot and messes it up. Critics often feel they're living, eating and breathing movies when they see more than 300-a-year. This guy actually is. And watching him, I almost knew how he felt.

Full disclosure - "El Critico" is set in Buenos Aires and I have family in Buenos Aires, so I go there a lot. Victor watches films in a screening room that I've actually sat in. And while my Spanish isn't good enough for me to hob-knob with the critics there, I confess that I did sometimes snort, just as Victor does, at romantic comedies. And then, I had my comeuppance when I met the love of my life and found myself choking up a few days later at a preview of - I'm embarrassed to admit this - "The Princess Bride."

So you will not hear me snorting at this romantic comedy, even though it's available not just on big screens but on video-on-demand, something Victor would, doubtless, call a betrayal of all things cinematic. "El Critico," "The Film Critic," strikes me as comically-exaggerated certainly, but not inaccurate. Let's call it a gentle wake-up call for reviewers who see themselves as movie gatekeepers rather than movie analysts. And let's also call it an entirely winning romance. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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