If you’re a fan of Argentinian movies, then The Lost Brother (2017) by Uruguayan director Adrián Israel Caetano is something I’d recommend you with a warning: get ready to be shocked. The movie is tainted by cruelty whether it’s nature on humans, humans on each other or occasionally on other living beings.
Set in a poor town called Lapachito in the Chaco province, the opening scene is set in a scorching hot day with dry surroundings while the main character Cetarti (played by Uruguayan actor Daniel Hendler) sweats profusely. He’s meeting up with Durate (Argentinian actor Leonardo Sbaraglia) apparently a local lawyer who’s taking him to the morgue to identify the remains of his estranged mother and half-brother- both killed by the mother’s boyfriend who happens to be Durate’s former colleague in the air force.
Later we learn that Durate is actually a thug and that his main interest is the insurance money left by the deceased, which he proposes to split into half between him and Cetarti. Cetarti doesn’t mind being jobless for a year, gaining money is all he’s after before returning to Buenos Aires. He stays in his deceased half-brother's house and starts selling the home’s items while waiting for the insurance money. Meanwhile, other characters emerge with indirect links to Durate such as Marta, the boyfriend’s widow (played by Spanish actress Ángela Molina) and her son Daniel. The plot unfolds and the relationship between the characters tense and leads to a surprise ending.
What distinguishes this movie is the limitation of space surrounding the characters. Whether it’s the low ceiling bunker used by Daniel or the morgue to the suffocating murder site and the overly-cluttered temporary residence of Cetarti - that clears off completely by the end of the movie.
Also, the characters are not as straightforward as they appear. Starting from Durate the psychopath who keeps controlling and manipulating everyone to slow and impassive Cetarti who’s not as simple-minded as first thought. The relationship between different characters is either marked by indifference, greed or by being taken advantage of. Marta is the only character displaying limited empathy towards her son but it's always hindered by his complicated relationship with Durate. Sbargalia’s impersonation of Durate who keeps switching from charisma to monstrosity is astounding. He’s also funny at scenes where he deals with awkward situations in a matter-of-fact fashion. The same goes to Hendler in the role of slow Certarti - he gained a few kilos to get into character.
The movie’s plot is really simple yet the smart dialogue is what gives it depth and character. There is a funny scene where Durate asks Cetarti if he’s mentally challenged - the very same question that goes in the viewers mind from the first scene - and when he’s answered by a why? He simply states that he could get paid more insurance money if he was.
The movie is an Argentinian-Uruguayan co-production that’s based on the critically acclaimed novel Under this Terrible Sun by Argentinian writer Carlos Busqued. It was hailed by critics that some had given it a 10/10 describing it as ‘powerful and devastating at once. It is also considered as Caetano’s best work in years. Although the movie had moderate success in other countries, it was the most-watched movie in Uruguay in 2017. Sbargalia was nominated and won best actor premiums in Málaga and Argentina’s film festivals. The Lost Brother depicts humanity at its worst; when no moral or compassion reigns its existence or actions. It’s an intelligent and tough movie not cut for the faint-hearted. Available on Netflix.
(Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org)