An apparently small scale, low-key film from Uruguay, Pablo Stoll and Jan Pablo Rebella’s Whisky actually has some larger points to make about Uruguayan society and industry. In a style very similar to that of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, with minimal dialogue and expression but with a subtle and careful attention to detail, it shows the inner lives of its characters through their environment and locations, with sensitivity and quite a bit of dry humour.
Jacobo Köller (Andrés Pazos) is a very dull lonely man living a very dull routine life. He owns a company that makes socks and every day follows a similar pattern as he has breakfast, opens up the factory and starts the machinery running in preparation for the workers arriving. This regular schedule is assisted by the methodical diligence of Marta (Mirella Pascual), Jacobo’s long-suffering and similarly lonely assistant, who keeps the small-time business operating smoothly. A year after his mother’s death, Jacobo is having a ceremony for the putting up of a headstone. As his brother, Herman (Jorge Bolani) is coming over from Brazil to attend the ceremony, Jacobo asks Marta help him out for a few days by pretending to be his wife, to give the illusion that his life is better than it really is. When his brother arrives however, Jacobo not only has to deal with the fact that Herman’s sock business back in Brazil is much more successful than his own, but he has to keep up the pretence of a marriage to Marta throughout his brother’s extended stay, as he takes them on a short trip to a Uruguayan seaside town they used to visit as children.
Whisky is the kind of film where very little happens in the way of major events or even in the way of significant conversations, but it tells everything in the little details of its characters circumstances and routines. Thus Jacobo is characterised in his old car which he struggles to get started every time, in the shutters that are permanently stuck and never get around to fixing, in the flickering of a fluorescent overhead light and in telephone calls that are wrong numbers. It’s a life that is as slowly unravelling as the socks coming out of the faulty machinery that manufactures them. Marta is similarly characterised in her dogged devotion to her boss, fitting into his schedules and routines, living a similarly lonely life that she can only escape through the romantic music on her walkman, through solitary visits to the movies and watching the idealised lives of the characters in glamorous foreign television soap-operas. In this way, the characters largely represent the down-at-heel shabbiness and lack of ambition of Uruguayan society, plodding along but stuck in the past and unable to move forward, left behind while its South American neighbours make capital on the industry of their population and their country’s natural attractions.
Not only is every dull detail of these characters lives depicted with delightfully monotonous precision, but there is just as much that can be read in the wonderful hangdog expressions of their faces as they plod through this drab, unchanging existence. There is also a delightful incongruity in the unlikelihood of their being any real chance of romance or emotional attachment developing between such characters, something that is well captured in the forced smiles they adopt for photographs - saying ‘whisky’ is the Spanish equivalent of saying ‘cheese’ for the camera - and for these characters their whole life is saying ‘whisky’, pretending that things are just fine and putting a brave front on things. The use of locations and props is just as essential in delineating the inner lives of the characters and the society they are trapped in. It is marvellously achieved here through the repetitive scenes of the Köller sock factory that use exactly the same fixed camera shots, and in the cheesiness of the out-of-season seaside resort that the characters visit. And just as the inner lives and desires of the characters can be seen in their equanimity and in the small details of their unvarying daily routines, so too it is when there is any small change to this routine that the film takes on a significant emotional force and resonance.
Whisky is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The DVD is in PAL format on a dual-layer disc and is Region 2 encoded.
I’m not sure about the presentation of the film on DVD. Presented anamorphically in an unusual ratio of 1.75:1, there is a large amount of grain and the contrast is very high. This could certainly be an intentional effect to give the film the same shabby grittiness of its characters and it does suit the material very well, particularly in the warmth of colour which at times recalls Wong Kar-wai’s use of light and colour in Chungking Express and the Argentinian locations of Happy Together. What are clearly unintentional however are the flaws in the transfer, which shows evidence of compression artefacting in the grain, in the shimmer of shutters and blinds and in evident pixilation on either side of some scene transitions. You would think that this ought not to be a problem on a dual-layer disc. Edge enhancement is also visible, there are some white dustspot marks and one or two more infrequent larger flaws in the image. Overall though, and particularly in the depth of colour, the film looks rather good and is well-suited to the material.
A Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for the film is certainly excessive for this film, which rarely strays from a central channel position, although some stereo separation can be heard – but there is certainly no real use of subwoofer or rear speakers. The dialogue is a little on the dull side, but can be clearly followed. There are a few pops here and there.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional.
The extra features are worth a look, but there is nothing of any great substance here. The Trailer (1:54) effectively captures the tone of the film, while the Making Of (27:03) is of good length and fairly comprehensive, showing casting sessions, screen tests, rehearsals, costume fitting, location tests and actual shooting. It’s a good way of enjoying the film’s humour again and is well presented, but of limited value. The Deleted Scenes (10:24) give you some idea of the amount of improvisation in dialogue that went on with variations shown of a number of scenes. The Directors’ Biography gives some brief information on a team who have only made one previous film.
Whisky is a delightful little film that works in the same low-key, dialogue-light fashion that draws inevitable comparisons with Aki Kaurismäki, Jim Jarmusch and films like The Man Without A Past, Kitchen Stories, Monday Morning and The Station Agent with its ordinary characters whose lives are shaped by the remoteness and ordinariness of their locations to such an extent that it takes on an almost surreal aspect (it is surely not a coincidence that the imagery used for the poster artwork evokes Grant Wood's 'American Gothic'). Like those films also mentioned, it is also finely balanced with a delicate sense of humour and sensitivity that is sympathetic to its characters and their circumstances. Artificial Eye’s DVD has minor issues in presentation, but includes a fair selection of worthwhile extra features that are more than you would expect for such a film.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 07:01:58