EL LEYTON (Hasta Que La Muerte Nos Separe/Until Death do us Part)

(director/writer/producer: Gonzalo Justiniano; screenwriter: Fernando Aragón/from the story La Red by Luis Alberto Acuna; cinematographer: Inti Briones; editor: Carolina Quevedo; music: Cuti Aste; cast: Siboney Lo (Marta), Juan Pablo Sáez (El Leyton), Luis Wigdorsky (Modesto), Gabriela Hernández (Josefa), Ramón Llao (El Gringo), Jose Martin (Cura), Pilar Zderich (Rosa), Carolina Jerez (Charito), Francisca Arze (Teresa); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carlo Bettin; Sahara Films; 2002-France/Chile-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“A worthy film from Chile.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Acclaimed Chilean director Gonzalo Justiniano (“B-Happy”) creates a well-thought out mix of drama, romance and mystery. El Leyton is a modern day parable of a Greek tragedy that spins a tale of jealousy resulting in a tragicomedy resolution. The film is set in a small fishing village on Chile’s Pacific coast. What it does especially well is recreate the gossipy and claustrophobic and monotonous atmosphere of the Catholic worshiping village, where everyone thinks they have a right to know another person’s business. Though the film seemed awkward and the dialogue stilted, after a while the low-class village atmosphere seeps in and begins to comes across as acceptably real.

The film begins with a frizzy-haired, mod-styled sunglass wearing, stubble-bearded young man named Leyton (Juan Pablo Sáez) appearing at a cemetery bringing flowers to a grave site. When spotted by a woman and her young son, Leyton’s insulted for daring to come back to his hometown and is chased out of the cemetery. As word of his presence spreads through the village, Leyton’s cornered by the angry locals and is about to be killed when he asks to at least have the villagers hear him out. He is brought to the old woman Josefa’s bar and the crowd that can’t squeeze into the pub stand outside and listen to his confession as he speaks into an open mic, as there are loudspeakers placed in the street.

Leyton begins by blaming his troubles on booze. He then relates how he’s fishing partners with his lifelong friend Modesto (Luis Wigdorsky), and they are opposites who never see eye to eye and love to constantly tease each other. Leyton is a laid-back party animal bachelor and a womanizer who has affairs with many of the married women in the village. Modesto is a laconic, hard-working and reliable businessman. Modesto does not fool around with women, and is soon to end his bachelor days by marrying the very serious and shy Marta (Siboney Lo). Modesto calls Marta “my queen” and in his old-fashioned way puts her on a pedestal, but he has not slept with her and keeps asking her to swear that she’s a virgin. Marta swears she’s a virgin and wants Modesto to make love to her before their marriage as proof, which he does after Leyton poisons his mind by telling him not to trust any women. Soon they get married before a priest and say the traditional vow “Until death do us part.”

Marta is upset because as the months go by she’s not pregnant, and the local women give her a recipe for shellfish that will help her get pregnant. But at the lunch meal Modesto has an upset stomach and has only the soup, while Leyton was invited over and feasts on the specially prepared fish. When Modesto leaves to go to the city and arrange to get a refrigerated truck for the business from an Italian investor, Leyton who is slightly drunk puts some moves on Marta. When she doesn’t resist as hard as she should, he returns later to force himself on her. Surprised that she doesn’t tell Modesto, he returns for seconds. Marta makes it plain she doesn’t want this to continue out of respect for her husband, but it’s plain to see she enjoys sex with bad boy Leyton and finds sex with the inexperienced Modesto as merely a wifely duty.

Modesto returns from the city proud of his businessman’s acumen in dealing with the Italian and while drinking heavily at a bar with Leyton to celebrate, criticizes him for being a failure and not satisfying a woman. This angers Leyton and he unthinkingly spites Modesto by telling him “Ask your wife if I can’t satisfy a woman.” From there on the love triangle sharpens, which leads to a dangerous situation and a twisty climax.

It’s a minor film, that has that middlebrow flavor of many foreign films that achieve success in the States because they pose as accessible arthouse type of films. This film is too grubby to probably reach that audience, but I think its grubbiness is what critically holds its head above water and saves it from such a crowd-pleasing middlebrow fate. What kept me from falling in love with the film, was that I couldn’t warm up to the main characters and feel their pain. Nevertheless, this is a tightly told tale and a worthy film from Chile that might begin to help Chilean cinema catch up with the national film industries of other Latin American nations.

REVIEWED ON 10/29/2003 GRADE: B-  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/