Can’t decide what to watch on the big screen during ¡Viva! Festival? Digital Reporter Kat Grayston reviews El Ciudadano Ilustre…
El Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) is a Spanish-Argentinian comedy drama following the journey of reluctant Nobel Prize-winning author Daniel Mantovani (Oscar Martinez) back to his humble Argentine beginnings in a visit to his rural hometown to collect their ‘Distinguished Citizen’ award.
Mantovani is rejecting of the fame that comes along with his literary success, declining several invitations to high-profile worldwide events. But, to the surprise of his assistant, the one invite that he does take up is to return to Salas, Argentina, his childhood home, a place he has not visited for 40 years yet used as the setting for all of his books.
Upon his arrival to the town, he is received as a hero. In one of many humorously outlandish scenes, he is convinced to partake in a quaint parade atop a fire engine, accompanied by a local beauty queen. The juxtaposition between the writer’s big city demeanour and his small town’s humble pride creates much humour as the narrative unfolds.
Behind the initial applause and adoration of his homecoming however, a deeper tension is building. The film’s core conflict is summarised by cynical Florencio (Marcelo D’Andrea), who gatecrashes one of Mantovani’s lectures to inform the crowd that ‘this millionaire’s whole work is based on slandering his own community.’ Salas, with its empty worn out streets and population that is largely unchanged from Mantovani’s childhood, is a far cry from the luxury European life he is accustomed to, but he has only achieved this success by telling the tales of local residents, who are unhappy with their portrayal.
The town’s frustrations increase throughout the duration of his stay, his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) sarcastically comments that his trip will provide him with ‘more rural and rustic stories for his European readers,’ and it is alluded to that was his true motive to visit as he was previously stuck in a creative rut for five years. Resentment for the writer grows and we see the story unfold through Mantovani’s returning eyes, resulting in a nuanced and layered depiction of the writer’s complex relationship with his hometown and the people within it.
Oscar Martinez is brilliant as Mantovani; much of the film’s comedy comes from his ability to portray character through the smallest of facial expressions and subtlest of reactions to the shenanigans unfolding around him. He shines in the scene when the car breaks down along a remote back road somewhere on the 600 mile journey between Buenos Aires and Salas. Mantovani and his amusingly simple-minded driver are forced to use pages from one of his novels to start a fire, and in place of toilet roll…
Mantovani becomes a Distinguished Citizen and a distinguished anti-hero – though often rude, self-centred and unaccepting of criticism, he makes for an interesting and amusing protagonist. Directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn keep the audience entertained for the duration of Mantovani’s fall from grace through quietly comedic scenes, more likely to raise wry smiles than a hearty laugh out loud. The script delicately handles issues of fame, home and belonging, art, and small town politics with a self awareness and wit that results in a very enjoyable watch.
El Ciudadano Ilustre screens as part of ¡Viva! on Sun 15 and Wed 25 April. Book tickets and find out more here.