Reviewer: Craig Phillips
Rating (out of 5): **½
Argentinean filmmaker Gabriel Medina's offbeat first feature The Paranoids (Los paranoicos) moves a bit slow, but it's still inventive and occasionally enchanting enough to make one curious about what the filmmaker may do next. Essentially a character study, the film follows Luciano (Whisky's talented Daniel Hendler, looking a bit like a Uruguayan Paul Schneider), a quirkily neurotic, procrastinating screenwriter who earns a living entertaining at kids' parties (garbed in a Smoochy-like suit as his character "Cachito"). He spends a lot of time brooding in his apartment because he's, well, paranoid and sociophobic. He's such the perfectionist that he's spent years struggling over one script, and unsurprisingly, all his anxieties make it hard for him to have a girlfriend. (In the midst of a fling, he's terrified of contracting an STD because the condom breaks.)
After he accidentally puts his performing partner in the hospital, his life is changed (in shades) when his longtime friend Manuel comes to visit. A TV producer, Manuel thinks Luciano's writing may be of interest to a Spanish program called "The Paranoids"—which, as Luciano discovers, is largely based on him. Things are further complicated when Manuel's girlfriend Sofia stays with Luciano while her beau works. Packed with emotional issues of her own, Sofia and her host find themselves intrigued by each other.
The Paranoids is unsettling at times; it's described as a dark comedy but I didn't find it particularly hilarious, though it has a certain downbeat drollness. (It's hard not to chuckle during the boxing videogame sequence). Medina does a nice job keeping the balance between comedy and tragedy, where Luciano's life is constantly teetering between. It's not the most gripping of plots, but the film is more a mood piece, enhanced by Lucio Bonelli's lovely cinematography.
Even with only a peripheral knowledge of Argentina's recent economic collapse, it's clear that the country's anxiousness about its tenuous future is perfectly reflected in Luciano's fearful personality. The other main reason to see the film is Hendler's performance. Playing someone who could potentially grate quickly, he manages to make his nervous protagonist sympathetic, even endearing. Check out Lost Embrace on DVD for another great Hendler role. I look forward to more from both Medina and this charismatic young actor.
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