Can creativity and family life peacefully coexist? Belmonte is a subtle, thoughtful meditation on the conflicts and dashed expectations of one who tried and failed to maintain a life of domestic bliss. Punctuated with occasional on-camera performances of folk music that help narrate the story, we feel swept up into the details of a slowly unfolding story that commands our attention despite its relaxed pace.
We’re treated to a glimpse of middle-class life in Uruguay and the day to day life of Jarvi (Gonzalo Delgado), a moderately successful artist whose paintings command a decent price and some critical success. But he drifts through life wistfully mourning his failed marriage while sharing custody of his daughter Celeste (Olivia Molinaro Eijo) with his ex, Jeanne (Jeannette Sauksteliskis). It’s the stuff that another director could have shaped into a prickly melodrama, but Federico Veiroj maintains a restrained touch that allows the story to float along without many sharp edges.
“…a subtle, thoughtful meditation on the conflicts and dashed expectations of one who tried and failed to maintain a life of domestic bliss.”
Instead of amping up the tension when conflicts arise, the director tends to resolve those scene with twists that confound our expectations. When the wife of a patron who has purchased two of Jarvi’s paintings makes a pass at him, he seems oblivious, then interested, but ultimately he deflects her advance. It’s uncertain why he reacts this way, and we’re left to ponder whether his conscience is bothering him, he perhaps has an unrealized attraction to men — or if something else has stopped him.
Other moments when we expect to see emotional conflicts flare up, such as a meeting between Jarvi and his ex, are curiously tension free. Jarvi wants to spend more time with Celeste, but Jeanne would prefer that Celeste spend more time bonding with her new family. Despite the rather high emotional stakes, the discussion ends without the histrionics we’ve been trained to expect in such an exchange.
Outwardly, we seldom see signs of Jarvi’s turmoil. He’s the strong, silent type who prefers to brood in isolation. The tormented figures he paints and draws are the only tangible sign that his life has taken an unexpected negative turn. His melancholy only tentatively lifts when young Celeste is visiting.
“The tormented figures he paints and draws are the only tangible sign that his life has taken an unexpected negative turn.”
Delgado’s moody presence as Jarvi, the artist and family man, going through a life-changing transition, happens chiefly under the surface and is a wonderfully restrained performance. He copes with the prospect of seeing his daughter less often than he’d like. And then there’s the issue of his ex’s pregnancy with another man’s child. He seems to drift aimlessly when Celeste is not around and is detached and listless when visiting with his family.
Javi prepares for a prestigious museum exhibition, although we sense his heart isn’t in it. He frets over preparations for the museum’s catalog of the exhibit and can’t seem to stay focused or take pleasure in what would otherwise be a gratifying experience. We find as the story progresses that Celeste is in many ways stronger and more firmly rooted in her new family than her dad is in starting out again on his own. She’s as self-assured as a tween can be without faltering into “precocious child spouting bon mots” territory that’s so familiar in American pop culture.
For a drama with a few humorous touches, it’s a wispy story that almost isn’t there. But rest assured that It will wash over you rather than deliver a gut punch, and sometimes that’s just the level of emotional intensity we seek.
Belmonte (2018) Directed by Federico Veiroj. Written by Federico Veiroj. Starring Gonzalo Delgado, Olivia Molinaro Eijo, Jeannette Sauksteliskis.
8 out of 10 Erythrina Crista-Galli