Review: ‘The Weasel's Tale’ offers plot twists and dark comedy

by Paulina Marinkovic | 2/1/21 2:00am

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by Mia Nelson / The Dartmouth

A decade after Argentinian director Juan José Campanella’s “The Secret in Their Eyes” won the 2010 Academy Award for best foreign film, Campanella made his return to live-action cinema with “The Weasel’s Tale” — a remake of the 1976 film “Yesterday's Guys Used No Arsenic.” Campanella’s dark comedy, offered through the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ “Film on Demand” series until Wednesday, follows former starlet Mara Ordaz, played by Graciela Borges, who lives with three filmmaking colleagues in a secluded mansion on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. 

While at times the script sounds stilted, “The Weasel’s Tale” delivers a comedic yet touching story on the consequences of declining success. Infused with amusing twists and vicious humor, the film is both a satirical interpretation and commemoration of the golden age of Argentine cinema. 

For 40 years, Mara has shared a mansion with her estranged husband Pedro De Córdova, a former actor, played by Luis Brandoni, who never achieved commercial success. Marcos Mundstock and Oscar Martínez play their two longtime friends, retired screenwriter Martín Sarvaria and director Norberto Imbert, who share the house as well. 

Their vast and secluded home is both the central location of the film and a symbolic reflection of the people inhabiting it. A now decrepit house, the Ordaz estate stands as both a direct representation of the group’s deteriorating dynamic and Mara’s fading acting career.

Early on, the film takes an unexpected turn with the emergence of two other characters, Bárbara, played by Clara Lago, and Francisco, played by Nicolás Francella: a young couple that “‘mistakenly”’ arrives at the Ordaz estate asking for directions to get to Buenos Aires. 

Bárbara and Francisco, who are in fact con artists, are welcomed by Mara and — once they realize that they are in the presence of an icon — begin working to manipulate her into selling her property and destroy the only bond keeping the quartet together: the house itself. 

As Francisco and Bárbara embark on a quest to convince Mara to move to the city to reignite her acting career, Mara confronts an important decision: Should she betray her longtime companions in order to carry out her fantasy of reliving her fame, or finally let go of her past and find peace with her present self? 

Throughout the film, Campanella touches on themes of deceit, betrayal and fading relevance as Mara struggles to come to terms with the fact that her golden days have ended. Poignant yet comedic until the end, “The Weasel’s Tale” ensnares viewers with its wit but paints a touching portrait of a woman struggling with self-acceptance.

Campanella’s meticulous directorial vision and production design stand on full display as the film navigates the mansion’s colorful and eccentric decor, containing dozens of pieces that pay homage to Mara’s glamorous past. Yet, the mansion also contains disturbing furnishings — such as the inaccurately grotesque portraits of Norberto and Martín’s absent wives — reflecting uneasy undertones and foreshadowing the dark elements that arise later in the film.

With every round of patrol that Norberto takes around the estate and every weasel he shoots — as he does repeatedly throughout the film — the mansion appears to deteriorate further, as do the relationships of its inhabitants. The decay mirrors the protagonists’ inability to let go of their long-gone success and the hidden secrets that unfold throughout the film.

Campanella’s close attention to detail brings his characters to life, grounding the film amid the twisting storyline. Motifs of several items — such as Mara’s Academy Award or the aforementioned portraits — cleverly reflect a part of each character’s lives and seem to symbolize their inability to let go of their past selves. The film is saturated with hints and clues that lend depth to the characters and add to the viewer’s sense of anticipation as the plot mutates unpredictably.

The actors’ performances and chemistry are crucial to establishing the dynamic of a convincingly dysfunctional family unit. For the most part, the film’s dialogue, filled with witty and at times vicious exchanges, stands as a particular strength in this regard; it is the constant banter among the protagonists that makes their decades-long friendships believable and intimate. Both Martín and Norberto spend most of the movie scheming against Mara and shooting snarky comments at each other, maintaining a balance between comedy and drama as the film transitions into its darker aspects. 

At other times, the interaction between the characters felt scripted and unnatural. Although comedic moments eased the rising tensions at certain parts of the film, it seemed overused in some scenes.

Campanella’s masterful directorship shines through for the majority of the film, however, and results in a delightful and heartwarming experience for viewers.

“The Weasel’s Tale” is a nostalgic exploration of the pain and loss of one’s sense of self that accompanies declining success. The film grows increasingly dark as it progresses, taking viewers on an unexpected but welcome journey of vanity and deceit. Perfect for lovers of dramas and twisted humor, the film is ultimately an entertaining and touching movie-watching experience, filled with a collection of amusing twists, satirical dialogue and a slew of emotionally complex characters.

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