Red Bear



Un Oso Rojo (aka A Red Bear) Argentina 2002 : Israel Adrian Caetano : 94 mins

An engaging mix of crime thriller and family drama, Red Bear tells the story of a fortyish career-criminal known as Oso (‘bear’ in Spanish) (Julio Chavez) who emerges from prison after a seven-year stretch to find his wife Natalia (Soledad Villamil) living with ineffectual, unemployed Sergio (Luis Machin). Long resigned to the terminal breakdown of his marriage, Oso is more concerned about his relationship with his daughter Alicia (Agostina Lage), who was only a baby when he went inside. Oso’s determination to retire from the hazardous criminal life, meanwhile, is sidetracked by the machinations of elderly gangland bigwig Turco (Rene Lavand) – who owes Oso money but insists he takes part in one more job.

While the basic situations and characters of Red Bear are hardly ground-breaking, this is nevertheless an effective, if minor, foray into a dusty, neglected corner of modern-day Buenos Aires. We can feel Argentina’s well-documented financial problems starting to sour the whole country’s atmosphere, exerting unbearable pressures on the likes of Sergio, Oso and Natalia. Caetano carefully – if perhaps a little too slowly – sketches in the various characters and their environment, before thankfully raising the tempo for the effectively tense final act featuring the inevitable ‘one last job’ and its violent consequences. The fatalistic film-noir ambience switches over to a distinctly Western-ish vibe (signalled by character names like The Bear, The Turk, The Chinaman and The Crow) as Oso unleashes an unexpected talent for nifty gunplay.

But what stays in the mind after Red Bear isn’t the firearm pyrotechnics – at the core of the film is the relationship between a guilty, well-meaning, forcibly absent father and his child. Caetano elicits solid work from both the Tom Sizemore-ish Chavez and the young Lage, while his script (co-written with Graciela Speranza and based on a story by Romina Lanfranchini) nimbly echoes the bedtime fables which send Alicia to sleep: above the bed we see her crayoned picture of a small child, walking hand-in-paw with a six-foot, fiercely protective, bright-red bear.

19th September, 2002
(seen 23rd August, Filmhouse Edinburgh – Edinburgh Film Festival)

For all the reviews from the 2002 Edinburgh Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young
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