I remember being on a drive with my family a very long time ago. We were meandering along country roads, the windows down, just out having a look at the scenery, when my step dad asked my mom to say something in Spanish. She thought for a moment and uttered a phrase. He said, "Oh, that's beautiful. What does it mean?" She replied, "Flies don't enter a closed mouth." That episode came back to me while watching Whisky because, like that long-ago drive, the film ambles amiably along peppered with the occasional dry punch line.
"Whisky" is what people say in place of "cheese" when they're having their picture taken. Whisky, the film, generates a number of strange moods. It's gritty and slow-moving, but intriguing. For most of the movie, one wonders what -- if anything -- is going to happen. Is it a mystery? Is it a con? The slow build of details makes it seem as though every element is important somehow, as though we should remember them because they will yield fruit sometime later in the film.
Beginning with a car engine turning over and then a long drive at night, the film introduces Jacobo, who goes about his daily routine as the owner of a small, antiquated factory that makes socks. The daily routine is a grind, padlocks are opened, warehouse doors folded up, ancient machines turned on, tea brewed and socks made. Every morning Jacobo meets Marta, his office manager outside the factory door. Every day Jacobo struggles with the blinds in his office, which someone at some point will come to fix. Every afternoon, Marta takes a furtive cigarette break. Every evening Marta checks the other employees' bags as they clock out, mechanically repeating "See you tomorrow, God willing."
One day Jacobo asks Marta for a favor. He wants her to pretend to be his wife during a visit from his more successful brother, Herman who returns to Montevideo for the matzeiva, the placing of a tombstone on their mother's grave. A charade begins, but why? After the ceremony, Marta, Jacobo and Herman take a weekend trip to a seaside resort, which the brothers haven't visited together since childhood. More details build, and a little tension between the brothers smolders beneath their stiff but cordial interactions. It becomes clear that the taciturn Jacobo is the responsible one, the one who took care of their mother through her apparently long illness, and that Herman is the charming one, the one who gets off easy, living a relatively carefree life.
The trio have an odd symmetry, not really enjoying one another's company, not really relaxing at the resort, often staring unmoved at the mundane events of life as it passes in front of their expressionless faces. In tone and pace and sort of oddball timing, Whisky is like a geriatric version of Jim Jarmusch's classic Stranger Than Paradise. It's all uncomfortable aside and deadpan stare, a brick of cash even drops into the plot. I loved the narcotic mood it put me in, while I, too, stared blankly at the film drifting by onscreen. When the film ended, I muttered "whisky" to myself and half-smiled.
"Whisky" screens at the Castro Theater on Monday, July 24 at 1:30pm and then again in Mountain View and Berkeley a week later. The film is part of the Jewish Film Festival, which opens tonight (July 20) and runs through August 7, 2006.