Pantaleón y las Visitadoras Review
The Peruvian Army have a delicate situation on their hands with their remote outposts in the Amazonian jungle, where the heat and the lack of female company is driving the men half-crazy. It’s a problem that the high-ranking officers believe can only be solved by employing the services of their most promising young officer, recently promoted to Captain, Pantaleón Pantoja (Salvador del Solar). He is charged with setting up a “Visitors” service for border garrisons, delivering women who can provide relief for the soldiers’ needs. Effectively, Captain Pantoja is to be a pimp delivering the services of prostitutes to the army garrisons. Evidently the position is not a particularly illustrious commission for the young Captain, nor are the Amazonian waterways the most hospitable (particularly as his wife is about to have a baby), but Pantoja zealously takes on the task with the habitual enthusiasm with which he would carry out any official order. Never having been with a prostitute before, the clean-cut, non-smoking, non-drinking Captain Pantoja nevertheless gives the matter his full attention and visits a brothel to gain some experience of the business. Assiduously dedicating himself to his task with scientific exactitude, Pantoja, becomes known as “Don Panta” and with 8,000 troops to service, he soon acquires the reputation of being one of the most notorious pimps in the country.
Apart from the uproariously funny satire of army culture, the principal delight in Mario Vargas Llosa’s original novel Pantaleón y las Visitadoras (known as Captain Pantoja and the Special Service in English) is the dazzlingly clever writing, simultaneously mocking the euphemistic abuses of official business-speak (long before it reached current pervasive proportions in society) while taking delight in the applying the linguistic acrobatics of high-flown scientific and official speak to the low business of prostitution – exemplified in how the brothel that Pantoja sets up as his “logistics centre” becomes known as “Pantyland” to everyone else. This is well conveyed in the film, which also captures the various other jingoistic uses of the language from the propaganda speak of the campaigning radio presenter defending “our women’s physical and moral integrity”, to the language of newspaper journalism, political double-speak and the overblown tones of religious obituaries much better than could reasonably have been expected for an adaptation of a highly literate novel that relies heavily on wordplay, while still retaining the freewheeling absurdity and humour of the situation.
Occasionally, the English translation in the subtitles doesn’t quite get the joke, neatly summarising some of the more high-flown proclamations. Thus “Quisiera saber con que tipo de apoyo material y logístico voy a contar para realizar mi mission”, which literally translates along the lines of “I would like to know the type of material and logistical assistance I can count on in the accomplishment on my mission”, becomes “What kind of support will I have for my mission”, which is accurate and perhaps necessary for brevity of reading, but loses the tone of Pantaleón’s earnest expression of military enthusiasm. The colourful character of the prostitutes’ names such as “Pechuga” and “Chuchupe” are not translated either, but for the most part the English translation copes very well indeed, particularly in the fine choice of the official-ese word for the service the prostitutes deliver to the soldiers as “renderings” (prestaciones).
It’s a long time since I read the novel that this is based on, but the film seems, like the other successful Vargas Llosa adaptation, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Tune In Tomorrow...), to admirably capture the tone and humour of the author’s original work. If it has any has any failings it is in the mid-section where Pantaleón’s fling with the sexy Columbiana (Angie Cepeda) and the frequent sex-scenes and nudity of the beautiful bodies feels rather gratuitous, overlong and repetitive, becoming a rather tiresome and conventional interlude that tends to undercut the absurd humour that goes on around it. These scenes rather overextend a film which fires off most of its cleverness in the setting up of the situation early in the film, but at 2 hours is rather too long to sustain this type of humour.
Pantaleón y las Visitadoras is released as part of Wave 1 of Fox’s Region 1 Cinema Latino collection, picking up Spanish language films from Latin America and Spain, presumably – since there have been no equivalent Region 2 releases of these titles – for the American Hispanic market. All are available at budget prices.
The picture would generally be fine but for the overly red/yellow tint applied throughout, which could be stylistic to capture the heat and ambience of the Amazon region, but it doesn’t feel right, flattening colour differentiation and making warm colours glare. Some edge enhancement is sometimes visible, often showing very large haloes. The image flickers slightly throughout possibly due to compression artefacts. The print quality itself is generally fine, with only one or two larger white dustspots and some reel-change marks, but these are quite scarce.
The audio track is presented in straightforward Dolby Digital 2.0, encoded for Pro Logic surround. It is relatively clear for dialogue, although a little flat and low on tone. Jungle atmospherics, music and sound effects are spread well-enough across the front and centre speakers, but never reach beyond that. Overall the soundtrack is dull, but more than adequate.
English subtitles are provided and are optional. They translate the material well for the most part, but are not as accurate or as complete as the Spanish subtitles also included.
None of the Cinema Latino releases come with anything more than trailers, but there is nothing at all on this particular release.
One of the original releases from Wave One of the Fox Cinema Latino collection, Pantaleón y las Visitadoras is one of the better releases in a series that started out promising to deliver interesting and rarely seen Spanish language films, but has since descended into mostly romantic TV-movie melodrama. The satirical tone and brilliantly observed language of Mario Vargas Llosa’s original novel is well-preserved and the film delivers an uproariously funny situation, but just drags on a little bit longer than the humour can sustain. The DVD quality is not as good here as some of the other releases in the collection, which are generally of a very high standard, but the film itself is better than most and adequately presented.