VLAFF 2012: El Último Elvis is weird, wonderful and heartbreaking
The slim field of movies about Elvis impersonators in Buenos Aires has its first masterpiece. In El Último Elvis, Carlos Gutiérrez is a sad-sack with thinning hair who looks like Paul Giamatti after he deep fried Bill Hicks and ate him. By day he works in a factory, and by night Carlos gigs with a crack band at supper clubs and seniors homes, delivering amazing renditions of “An American Trilogy”, “Suspicious Minds”, “You Were Always on My Mind” and other standards from the King’s corpulent years.
His obsession with Elvis, however, is a full-time affair. When an Iggy Pop lookalike complains to him about dwindling work, Carlos’ response—a blank, “I invented rock ‘n’ roll”—signals his growing estrangement from reality, and the diet of peanut butter and banana sandwiches can’t be a good thing, either.
His family, also estranged, lamely struggle to conceal their embarrassment. When he hears that his daughter Lisa Marie (yes, Lisa Marie) has joined the school choir, Carlos intones, “I dunno, the music industry is tough,” while his ex-wife shakes her head and softly sighs, “Damn the day I met you.”
El Último Elvis revels in these painful moments, but succeeds because writer-director Armando Bo plays it all so straight. Slow, creeping camerawork lends an almost stately treatment to a story that could easily topple into absurdity, while first-time actor John McInerny is outrageously good, whether he’s expertly and passionately mimicking every wince-inducing tick of Presley’s Vegas persona, or straining to survive an unravelling personal life while he tries to connect with his kid.
A car accident eventually forces father and daughter together for a spell, on the same day that Lisa Marie’s mother makes a cold bid for legal custody. There’s a glimmer of relief in these scenes—you want Carlos to emerge from his delusions, and you cheer Lisa Marie’s growing affection for him (a bedtime scene featuring "Hawaiian Wedding Song" is lovely)—but a pilgrimage to Graceland for his 42nd birthday possibly says more about the ultimate priorities in Carlos’ life.
Bo inserts the kind of riddle in the dying seconds of El Último Elvis that’ll have patrons arguing about the film all night, but as a bold, confident, and provocative debut, there’s no dispute.
El Último Elvis is officially included in VLAFF’s spotlight on Argentine cinema—it’s probably worth mentioning that Bo comes from film royalty; his father is an actor and his grandfather enjoyed global infamy as a pioneer of Argentine erotica—and the film is one of eight movies entered into VLAFF’s 10th Anniversary Competition, along with flicks like the picaresque and highly amusing Mexican take on purgatory, Todos Hemos Pecado.
VLAFF also spotlights Queer Latin Cinema over its 10-day run—covered by Craig Takeuchi here—while other movies are grouped into the Panorama of Latin American Cinema, Documentary competition, and Canada Looks South programmes.
The festival also has a healthy raft of short films in and out of competition, a closing night gala featuring Sabastian Borensztein’s Un Cuento Chino (A Chinese Tale), and if you haven’t grabbed a ticket yet for tonight’s opening night gala presentation of the insanely entertaining Cuban zombie flick, Juan de los Muertos—qué diablos, man?
The 10th annual Vancouver Latin American Film Festival kicks off tonight (August 31) with Juan de los Muertos, at the Granville 7. El Último Elvis screens at 4:00 PM, Saturday (September 1), at Goldcorp Centre for the Arts/Simon Fraser University, and next Friday (September 7), at the Pacific Cinematheque
You can follow Adrian Mack's contribution to the lobotomizing techno-nightmare known as Twitter at @AdrianMacked.