(directors/writers: Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll; screenwriter: Gonzalo Delgado Galiana; cinematographer: Bárbara Álvarez; editor: Fernando Epstein; music: Pequeña Orquesta Reincidentes; cast: Andres Pazos (Jacobo Köller), Mirella Pascual (Marta Acuña), Jorge Bolani (Herman Köller), Ana Katz and Daniel Hendler (young married couple from Argentina); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fernando Epstein; The Global Film Initiative; 2004-Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Spain-in Spanish with English subtitles)

“Slyly appealing.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An engaging deadpan comedy about some dreary characters leading quietly desperate lives. It’s directed and written in a slyly appealing understated way by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll (“25 Watts”). Gonzalo Delgado Galiana contributes as cowriter. The droll comedy about opposite brothers reuniting briefly to try to overcome their estrangement reminds one of the unique films by Jim Jarmusch and Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. The story is set in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Jacobo Köller (Andres Pazos) is a 60-year-old lonely and morose owner of a run-down sock factory in Montevideo, he inherited from his father. He’s nervous that his successful upscale married younger brother, Herman (Jorge Bolani), whom he has lost contact with after not seeing him in years, is flying in from his residence in neighboring Brazil to attend their mother’s Jewish unveiling ceremony after missing the funeral a year ago. While Jacobo’s old-fashioned factory is struggling to survive, Herman’s modern one in Brazil is booming with the latest Italian machines.

Jacobo, for reasons he never reveals, gets his loyal, obliging and uncomplaining spinster assistant, Marta (Mirella Pascual), to agree to pretend to be married to him for the length of Herman’s visit. Marta also never reveals why she accepts this outrageous offer, which goes beyond her work duties.

The title is derived from when the photographer for the pretend newlyweds snaps their photo and to get them to smile tells them to “Say whisky!”.

The awkward visit is punctuated by the always cheerful Herman’s guilt for neglecting mom, and to make up for his thoughtlessness he invites Marta and Jacobo to join him for a few days in the uncrowded seaside resort of Piriapolis during the off-season. That’s the spot where the brothers used to enjoy visiting as children. Jacobo stays in character as a no fun sourpuss, Herman is warm and easily befriends Marta, while Marta comes out of her shell during the holiday trip and even begins to smile as she imagines what happiness there could have been if she married. Underneath the external calm between the siblings, we learn that Jacobo is still mad that his younger brother did not help him all the years when he cared for their invalid mother during her long illness. It leads to a brilliantly conceived ending, about the trio in their own special way trying to make sense out of their lives.

The bleak comedy is a winner in getting into the heads of the inarticulate ordinary people, as its sparse dialogue only helps the viewer get to know the three characters better by turning full attention on them in order to try to figure out what motivates them. That this work is meant to be more a comedy than a drama, might surprise some viewers.

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