Chico

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

CHICO

6/10

Hungary (/ Germany / Croatia / Chile) 2001
director/script : Ibolya Fekete
semi-documentary
cinematography : Nyika Jancso, Matyas Erdelyi, Antonio Farias
editing : Anna Kornis
lead actors : Eduardo Rozsa Flores, Sergio Hernandez, Richie Varga, Gyula Bodrogi
108 minutes

A Hungarian-German-Croatian-Chilean production about a Hungaro-Hispanic Jewish-Catholic Bolivian..? Meet Ricardo Floras Kertesz (Flores), a globetrotting freedom fighter who takes the idea of ‘looking for trouble’ to absurd new lengths. Escaping Pinochet’s Chile, he hops between Albania, Israel, Cuba and Croatia, bumping into Carlos the Jackal along the way. In short, an ideal date movie – if you’re dating Kate Adie or Christiane Amanpour.

Like its hero, the film is a hybrid, cobbling together newsreel footage, documentary interviews and staged dramatic episodes – this psychological ‘encapsulation’ of Ricardo’s state of mind means it doesn’t matter that much of it doesn’t ‘work’ or cohere. As with Ricardo, the point is the joins, not the actual quality of the fabric: this is a film that’s been edited rather than directed. And the early mixed-media sections, paralleling Ricardo’s development with that of his socio-political environment, are a surprisingly effective echo of what Tarkovsky tried with Mirror, though here the aim is didactic rather than poetic. Indeed, as the film goes on it becomes a bit of an ideologue’s travelogue, but is saved from po-faced political-correctness by a very welcome strand of absurdist humour.

But when Ricardo immerses himself in the Balkan conflict, Fekete’s limitations are apparent in the staging of the action scenes, proving that war can be boring, as well as hellish. It’s a relief when we flash back and forward to more interesting encounters, including two ‘confessionals’ with real-life religious leaders. Chico is also a kind of confessional, a search for identity and meaning on the part of a rootless figure with one foot in the stateless future, one foot in the revolutionary past: “freedom lay elsewhere,” he comments, and it could serve as his motto.

Ricardo is occasionally heroic, but he’s by no means a hero. Even his nickname, Chico, is taken from a jokey cartoon character. He knows he’s as much of a tourist as a mercenary or secret agent, an adrenalin-junkie (“war is the only state of being”) whose attachments are, necessarily, arbitrary: in Croatia, he openly admits, “That village became my everything,” and he’s like a parasite, absorbing the fervour of his brothers-in-arms. For Ricardo, there is always a war on.

And his brand of fervour, however well-intentioned, isn’t unquestioningly celebrated. Fleeing Chile, his mother gives her nationality as ‘Bolivian.’ “No,” contradicts her husband, “we’re internationalists!!”, and he proceeds to lead his fellow aeroplace passengers in a rousing chorus of the Internationale. But the camera stays on the mother’s concerned, unsinging face, deftly undercutting the raucous idealism with an unexpected strain of world-weary pragmatism.