A RED BEAR (UN OSO ROJO) (director/writer: Adrián Caetano; screenwriters: from the story by Romina Lafranchini/Graciela Speranza; cinematographer: Jorge Guillermo Behnisch; editor: Santiago Ricci; music: Diego Grimblat; cast: Julio Chaves (Oso/Ruben), Soledad Villamil (Natalia), Luis Machín (Sergio), Rene Lavand (Turco), Agostina Lage (Alicia); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Lita Stantic; New Yorker Films; 2002-Argentina-in Spanish with English subtitles)
“It works mainly because of the strong presence of the imposing figure of Julio Chaves as the Bear, in a brilliantly understated performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The director-writer of Bolivia, Adrián Caetano, presents a film co-written with Graciela Speranza and based on a story by Romina Lanfranchini. It comes with this old chestnut about a fierce gunman seeking revenge from those who done him wrong and then aiming to go straight because he saw the light. It works mainly because of the strong presence of the imposing figure of Julio Chaves as the Bear, in a brilliantly understated performance. He was just released after serving a seven year prison term for armed robbery where a policeman was killed in the shoot-out. The Bear hopes to reconcile with his wife Natalia (Soledad Villamil) and his eight year old daughter Alicia (Agostina Lage), who was celebrating her first birthday the day the robbery took place.

A Red Bear engagingly draws the crime story into a family drama. The Bear upon his release returns to the suburban slum of Bueno Aires, San Justino, where he’s seeking to reconnect with his sober-minded wife who is living with her inept, unemployed, gambling addicted, whiny, new hubby Sergio (Luis Machín). The Bear soon realizes she can’t forgive him and he turns all his energies on righting things with his kid. The Bear finds that Sergio was at least nice to Natalia and the child, and paid the bills during the rough times. It disturbs him that his little girl doesn’t recognize him, but in his laconic way the Bear gets on her good side by buying her gifts and taking her for a merry-go-round ride. When he learns she has to repeat the second grade because of a reading problem, the Bear buys her children’s books. The bedtime fables she reads relate to the Bear’s real life role as her strong protector from the dark outside world. Atop Alicia’s bed is her crayoned drawing of a small child, walking hand-in-paw with a big red bear.

The Bear’s other purpose in returning is to get from the finagling elderly gang boss Turco (Rene Lavand) the four grand owed him from the last job. Remaining patient while Turco stalls him for a month about the money, the Bear becomes involved with his former family as he’s determined to repair some of the damage caused by his absence. He’s trapped between the poor state of the Argentine economy and the double-dealing gang boss, as he’s left with little choice but to return to a way of crime. Turco promises to give him the money so he can retire, but not before he does one last job as the getaway driver during a heist.

Though it covers the familiar ground of betrayal, revenge and redemption, it covers it in a compelling way. It offers an apt depiction of small-town life in Argentina, but it’s most remarkable for the heartbreaking relationship that develops between a father and his daughter. In a nonjudgmental way Caetano allows the story to filter through on its own merits, as what is remembered after the bloody gun-play at the conclusion is the depth of emotion reached by the family drama.

A good vehicle to promote the “New Argentine Cinema.”