Movie Review: Argentine village might become a town with the help of “The Finger (El Dedo)”

It’s pitched as an Argentine “Waking Ned Divine,” and one can certainly see a couple of similarities between that beloved comedy and “The Finger (El Dedo).”

There’s a death that could play a key role in the future of a village, if and when word of it gets out. The dead guy was a local character, somewhat beloved.

But the deaths aren’t the same, the local response to that demise is quirky, and the entire affair is more convoluted in the South American tale and handled in a sort of aimlessness that somewhat robs “The Finger” of its point.

This “true story” comedy is as distinctly Argentine as any picture in recent memory, a movie charmingly disorienting in tone thanks to that whole “Feels like Italy, with Italians speaking Spanish” vibe Argentina gives off.

In 1983, sleepy Cerro Colorado is on the verge of greatness just as Argentina is on the verge of democracy — again. A birth has given the village a population of 501, qualifying it for an election, a “mayor” who will represent it, and other signs of “progress.

Yes, people still get around on horseback. Mostly. Only the chauffeur-driven Don Hidalgo (Gabriel Goity) has a car. He seems seriously worked-up over this “town” news. Because being the richest guy in town, landed gentry going back generations, he will of course stand for election and maintain the control his family’s had over the place forever.

The others might shrug that off as noblesse oblige and what not, but the increasingly eccentric Baldomero (Martín Seefeld) just might raise some objection. Which is why Don Hidalgo tries to enlist him as his “campaign” lieutenant. Oddly enough, Baldomero turns up dead, stabbed and left lying in a creek bed.

This one-store, one-church, one-priest, a lone “no letters today (in Spanish with English subtitles)” postman, one-real-policeman village that wants to become a town has both a crime and an ethical dilemma on its hands. Who did it, and why? And can we keep that a secret until after the election, being “civic minded” and all?

The guy who won’t let this go is Florencio (Fabián Vena), proprietor of the Casi Todos Ramos Generales, “Almost Everything General Store.” Baldomero may have been off his nut, but he was Florencio’s brother. When Florencio and a friend retrieve the sibling’s body, Florencio chops off one of the dead man’s fingers and makes a vow of what he’s going to do to the killer, and where he’s planning on jamming that finger.

Director Sergio Teubal, whose directing career seems to have ended with this 2011 film, tries to weave together the disparate threads of this story, the various agendas in play, with mixed success.

The finger is dropped into a jar of formaldehyde on the counter of the store, and people start “consulting” it, making decisions based on which direction it floats into. The finger could help with the investigation, or at the very least, lead a “loyal opposition” to the free-spending, influence-peddling Don Hidalgo.

Don Hidalgo and his vote-fixing shenanigans must be thwarted. Florencio must confront the killer. The police chief must turn a blind eye. And the finger must keep its secret from anyone who would let the news out that it belongs to the guy whose death dragged Cerro Colorado back down to a population of 500 living souls.

Teubal, working from a Carina Catelli script — she has “Noche Americana” coming out this year — loses track of where to go with all this even as he’s layering in plenty of local color and dollops of quirky.

There’s a French hiker who doesn’t speak Spanish and can’t seem to find his way out of town. Either he “just missed” the weekly bus, or the bus doesn’t stop.

A Greek chorus of old timers — male and female — sit on a bench in front of the sheet they use to project movies in the Town without TV and mock themselves in commentaries to the camera, ridiculin, the idea of a movie being made of what happened here, who “the guy playing me” is, all of it.

“There’s no hell like a small town,” one confesses, and the movie backs up that point. As charming as any country’s “quaint” and “picturesque” villages are, as tempting as it might be to “Escape to the Country,” living amongst the entrenched locals is almost sure to be arduous.

Teubal gets so many things right that tthe drifting, meandering film that tells this story is never so far adrift that it loses its New World-Old World Italian/Spanish charm. The Old World Spanish/Italian violence, political mischief and blood oaths play as just quaint enough to be “cute.” But not so cute that you’d ever want to live here, no matter which direction The Finger points you.

Rating: Unrated, violence, sex, profanity

Cast: Fabián Vena, Martín Seefeld, Gabriel Goity, Rolly Serrano and Mara Santhuco.

Credits: Directed by Sergio Teubal, scripted by Carina Catelli. A Film Rise/Tubi/Mubi/Amazon release.

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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