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Lost Embrace

An Intimate, Bittersweet Look At Jewish Life In Contemporary Argentina

Directed by Argentine filmmaker Daniel Burman (who also co-produced Walter Salles' Motorcycle Diaries), Lost Embrace takes an affectionate look at a motley group of exiles, refugees, and eccentrics, who try to carve out a modest living for themselves in a seedy mini-mall in the funky Once retail district of Buenos Aires, a traditionally Jewish enclave.

The film's episodic plot revolves around Ariel (Daniel Hendler), a self-absorbed, moody 30-something college dropout, who longs to escape the banality of his existence and move to Poland to become a European sophisticate, much to the dismay of his grandmother (Rosita Londner), a Polish refugee who fled to South America to escape the Nazis. Much of Ariel's discontent with his existence stems from his absent father Elias (Jorge D'Elia) who, shortly after Ariel's birth, left for Israel to fight in the Yom Kippur War leaving Ariel, his older brother Joseph (Sergio Boris), and his mother Sonia (Adriana Aizemberg) only with a small lingerie store that still bears his name, Elias's Creations. Just as Ariel's departure looks like a done deal, however, Elias re-emerges, forcing Ariel to reconsider his foregone conclusions about his father and his own aspirations and failures in life.

The film's complex father-son relationship, however, is but one facet of Lost Embrace. Burman's warm and gentle comedy, for better or worse, is stuffed with comic events and numerous quaint subplots that create the enchanted illusion of a teeming, multicultural urban village complete with its own stories, myths, and legends -- as diverse, mysterious, and colorful as the history of the tango -- which are both an inspiration for and obstacles to the mini-mall denizens' existence.

The film is also filled with the kind of shaky handheld camera work, artful accidents, and amiable eccentrics that used to be the hallmark of the French New Wave filmmakers, before these techniques became cinema vérité clichés. At times, however, the nervous camera work and use of swish pans and jump cuts -- stylistic elements that arguably are meant to add a certain edginess to the narrative while communicating the inner turmoil and identity crisis of the film's young Jewish protagonist -- threaten to eclipse Burman's more subtle points about life in the wake of Argentina's economic bust in 2001.

Luckily, the film's script, co-written by Burman and the Jewish novelist Marcelo Birmajer and brought to life by a stellar ensemble cast, is strong enough to transcend the filmmaker's penchant for time-worn indie-film techniques while meditating on the tenuous nature of cultural identity in contemporary Argentine society in general, and on Jewish identity in particular.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars