Movie Review: “Mr. Kaplan”

kaplan“Mr. Kaplan”, Uruguay’s contender for the best foreign language film Oscar, is about an elderly Jew who ponders whether he “inspired” anyone, if he’s “accomplished anything memorable.” Jacob Kaplan (Héctor Noguera) decides the answer is “no,” and results to do something about it.
Jacob is 76. He’s long retired, not safe behind the wheel, is a little unsure of just what his two sons have
amounted to and is haunted by his father’s “inspire people” edict when young Jacob was shipped off, alone, as a child, from pre-World
War II Poland to America.
The solution to his shortcoming comes to him on the evening news. It’s 1997, and another Nazi war criminal has been discovered, hiding out all these years
in South America. When Jacob hears his teen granddaughter (Nuria Flo) refer to an old man she and her friends see on the beach as
“The Old Nazi,” Jacob has his mission. Stalk this guy, uncover his guilt and spirit him away to Israel to face justice.
“Just like Eichmann!”
Jacob is entirely too feeble to manage this, but his sons have hired Wilson (Néstor Guzzini), a lump of an ex-cop, to be his driver.
But the slovenly, drunken Wilson’s story is more complex than that. He’s unemployed, a pinball addict with five kids to support. He
didn’t leave the police force by choice. Can he sober up enough to redeem himself? Can he smarten up enough to be of any use at all?
Álvaro Brechner’s film, in Spanish with English subtitles, walks a tightrope between light farce and tragi-comedy. Jacob and Wilson are
all kinds of inept, botching stake-outs, stumbling into a funeral and a strip club, getting arrested by the cops and chased by
descendants of German ex-pats. It’s amusing to see the clumsy ways they “investigate” this old man (Rolf Becker) and leap to
conclusions. He changed his name, he knew other Germans in Uruguay and he wears long-sleeve shirts, even on the beach. He MUST
be a Nazi!
But this is a Holocaust story, so the stakes are high. What could have been another melancholy comedy of old age has lessons to
impart and history to relate.
The veteran Chilean actor Noguera (“El Regalo”) lets Jacob teeter between canny and delusional, a character who hallucinates the Voice
of God one minute and seriously declares how important what his granddaughter does for him is “to 4,000 years of Jewish history” the
next.
The movie meanders a bit, mainly to throw us off the scent. But despite the loose threads “Mr. Kaplan,” the character and the movie,
follow, Brechner finds surprises to weave into it, from the hilariously forgotten French ditty by Serge Gainsbourg (“S.S. in Uruguay”)
that opens the movie to its cryptic, fitting and unexpected finale.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, profanity

Cast: Héctor Noguera, Néstor Guzzini, Rolf Becker ,
Credits: Written and directed by Álvaro Brechner. A Menemsha Films release.

Running time: 1:38

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