Word Games and Apathy in Piotr: Una Mala Traducción

A foreigner from a made-up land, a half-baked plan to earn some money and a puddle of lukewarm relationships - Piotr: Una Mala Traducción (Piotr: A Mistranslation) offers a quirky take on the predicament of the educated 20-something facing reality for the first time.

 Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción
Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción

The film, which has been very well-received in festivals, opened to a packed house on Thursday, April 28, at Centro Arte Alameda. Outside in the foyer folks milled about holding glasses of wine or beer and chattered with anticipation. At the designated hour the eager movie-goers rushed the door, anxious to get a seat.

Piotr, a scruffy-looking young man from fictitious Nacrovia, grew up in Santiago after his family fled the revolution back home. The film opens with his decision to become financially independent and do something with his life. What follows is a witty, if somewhat muddled, comedy in which plans don’t always pan out the way they are supposed to.

 Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción
Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción

Piotr and his best friend waste little time in hatching a scheme to stage a theatre production, in order to benefit from government funding. For a large part of the film, Piotr stares at his surroundings with a slightly-perplexed expression as his play flounders, his girlfriends come and go, and faceless Chilean bureaucracy takes increasing measures to foil his project.

There’s no denying the intelligence and humor in Piotr. The language created by the film’s director, Martín Seeger Castellano, sounds convincing and effortless coming out of the actors’ mouths, but it doesn’t stop there.

In one scene, the subtitles accompanying the never-ending monologue of one pretentious character speed up gradually until they flash across the screen for little more than a second. This unconventional use of subtitles, rather than a literal translation, gives the audience a visceral experience of rhetorical babble.

 Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción
Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción

In a later scene this manipulation of subtitles appears again. Piotr’s crush, Danka, loses her temper and releases a stream of criticism that mostly disappears due to the layering of white letters against a white background. The effect created can be read in the bewildered look on Piotr’s face.

Furthermore, the few words that can be made out refer not to the fight between Danka and Piotr but rather seem to attack the structure and character development of the film itself. Seeger clearly proves that he can go beyond creating a superficial cinematic experience, can play with the tools at hand and even poke fun at his own work.

Aside from these postmodern cartwheels, there are simple jokes to be enjoyed as well. But despite its cleverness, Piotr ultimately lacks a touch of life. The characters seem so busy trying to look cute and ambiguous that their true emotions never develop beyond wistfulness and dismay. Piotr gets rid of his old girlfriend and takes up with the next without an ounce of chemistry between any of them.

 Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción
Photo courtesy Piotr: Una Mala Traducción

Events chug along but nothing really develops. Piotr starts off and continues all along to be the victim of his own apathy. Most everyone can sympathize with the struggles of finding one's way in the world, and on the outside this film seems to tell its own charming version of this process, but in the end it favors frills over substance.

In his opening speech at the premiere, Seeger explained that Piotr: Una Mala Traducción came out of his thesis project at Escuela de Cine de Chile, and it shows. The movie is smart and funny, but much like the Nacrovians themselves, not entirely real.

Piotr: Una Mala Traducción
Ticket prices: General CP$2.500 (US$5.35), Students $1.900, Wednesdays $1.500
Centro Arte Alameda
Av. Libertador Bernardo O`Higgins 139
Showtimes: 5:00, 7:00, 9:00 pm
Metro Baquedano or Universidad Católica

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