London Film Festival: Mr Kaplan

Directed by Álvaro Brechner
Starring Hector Noguera, Nestor Guzzini and Rolf Becker

by Amanda Farley

Jacob Kaplan (Héctor Noguera) is 76 years old and trapped in the humdrum ordinariness of his life. Having fled to South America from Europe during World War II, he was named for greatness but the older he gets the more he feels his inadequacy. He has no great legacy to leave behind and time is running out. Meanwhile his family can’t help him. His sons are distracted by their own careers, his granddaughter is a typical teenager and his wife, while ever faithful, doesn’t understand Jacob’s end of life crisis. But then hopes arrives in the form of an elderly German bar owner, known locally as ‘The Nazi’. Suspicious of this man, Kaplan begins to investigate with the help of the hapless Contreras (Néstor Guzzini), a down on his luck ex-police officer. It’s not long before he’s convinced he’s found a runaway nazi and with greatness now within his grasp he and Contreras hatch a plan. Inspired by the story of Adolf Eichmann, they will kidnap the German and secretly take him to Israel to stand trial. This plan starts a chain of events that lead to some unexpected and surprising outcomes.

This is director Alvaro Brechner’s second feature after Bad Day to Go Fishing and shows Brechner’s exceptional storytelling skill at work. He has a wonderful ability to comment on the frailty and contradictions of human nature while never passing judgment. Instead we see storytelling that takes difficult ideas and the unpalatable parts of human behaviour and looks at them with a respect and humour that allows the audience to be conspirators rather than judge. He also shows his ability to portray characters that have real depth; these people seem real and nuanced despite the ever increasing ridiculousness of the situations they create for themselves.

This is helped by the fact that Mr Kaplan has a strong cast of actors. Héctor Noguera is sublime as the lead and manages to bring warmth to a character that could so easily have become self-indulgent and clichéd. Néstor Guzzini also gives a good performance as a hapless but loveable loser, a man who always means well but yet never quite manages to get it right. It’s lovely to see the buddy genre restyled here with two characters that connect across a generation. They are well paired; the grumpy Mr Kaplan against the younger and more insecure Contreras. Both have failed but in different ways and all they have left is one man who believes and one man who wants to believe. The resulting journey leads to some emotional and poignant realizations.

Shot in Uruguay, this film is a wonderful explosion of colour and sunshine. From the white sandy beaches to the contemporary city apartment it shows the country at its best. What’s more, it captures the humour and love of the people. Although terribly sad in its own way, this film never forgets the humour that comes even in the darkest moment. Mr Kaplan might have a terrible grasp of logic but his heart is always in the right place and Brechner uses both the character’s words and silences to show this.

This film looks at both the small and big moments that make up a life. It does so in a way that doesn’t shy away from the ridiculous but that also never falls into the trap of flippancy or glibness and that’s what makes it a quixotic journey that is definitely worth seeing.

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