The Red Bear

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Mar 31 20:49:29 MST 2003

What do you get when you insert the classic elements of a "hood trying to 
go straight" story into the backdrop of Argentina's economic collapse? The 
answer is "A Red Bear" ("Un Oso Rojo"), a film that is far more engaging 
than the average neo-noir flick out of Hollywood.

It evokes a thousand other movies, starting with Bogart's "High Sierra". 
Based on the naturalistic insight (a style all but forgotten in the world 
of fiction) that society casts an invisible web around the human actor, 
most of all the ex-convict, "A Red Bear" deepens this sense of hopelessness 
by being set in the bleak landscape of contemporary Argentina.

When the "Bear" (Julio Chávez) is released from prison, he discovers that 
his old neighborhood is even shabbier than when he left it. Stores are 
boarded up and men hang out on street corners trying to bum a few pesos for 
a beer.

As the Bear, veteran actor Chávez is as tense as a coiled spring. With his 
prison tattoos, hulking frame, bullet-shaped head and heavily scarred face, 
he looks like he can explode at any moment. In one of the opening scenes, 
he pleads for a few pesos from what appears to be an Argentine version of a 
yuppie. After contemptuously advising the Bear to get a job, the hulking 
ex-con grabs him by the throat, forces him into his car and takes all the 
money from the man who has been reduced to tears.

But the Bear is content to work as a cab driver while making an attempt to 
get to know the 8-year-old daughter Alicia (Elisabetta Rocchetti) he left 
behind him when he was in prison. His ex-wife Natalia (Lina Bernardi) is 
reluctant to let him back into their lives, especially since she has 
remarried. It is not difficult to understand why she would keep him at 
arm's length: he served time for killing a cop during a foiled robbery and 
would very likely be capable of killing again.

Despite his ex-wife's reluctance to let him near, eventually he begins to 
bond with his daughter in one poignant scene after another. When a couple 
of cops pat him down without any provocation at a local playground, his 
daughter looks on with a crushed expression on her face.

When the Bear learns that his ex-wife, his daughter and the feckless man 
she lives with are about to be evicted from their meager bungalow, he 
decides to take part in a stick-up. The robbery is organized by "The Turk" 
(Freddy Flores ), a shady pool hall owner who has not yet paid the Bear 
money still owed to him from the last heist.

When the gang storms into a warehouse with guns blazing in pursuit of the 
payroll, Director Matteo Garrone crosscuts ironically to a schoolyard 
celebration of Argentina's Independence Day. After the Bear's daughter 
marches behind the blue national flag, the assembled student body sings the 
national anthem:

Mortals! Hear the sacred cry;
Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!
Hear the noise of broken chains.
See noble Equality enthroned.
The United Provinces of the South
Have now displayed their worthy throne.
And the free peoples of the world reply;
We salute the great people of Argentina!

As the words are being sung, the Bear and his fellow criminals are seen 
gunning down security guards and making off with the cash. It is the most 
devastating irony I have seen in a film since the christening scene in the 
Godfather that is crosscut with images of the Corleone gang taking bloody 
vengeance on its rivals.

Afterwards, when the Bear delivers a satchel of cash to his ex-wife's 
partner, he is told that they cannot take the money since it is stolen. In 
a rejoinder that had many in the audience at the New Directors/New Films 
chuckling, especially the Argentine contingent, the Bear replies: "All 
money is stolen."

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