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By Merle Bertrand | December 23, 2001

The holidays can be a lonely and depressing time of year for anyone who doesn’t live in the Hallmark world of holiday television ads. The urge for family and the need for companionship simply soar. Just ask any of the three men struggling to achieve just those goals in director Lucho Bender’s touching dose of Christmas melancholia, “Felicidades.”
Julio is a dentist searching all over Buenos Aires for the one toy his son specifically asked Santa for…which means, of course, that it’s the one present he can’t seem to find anywhere. During the course of his quest, he’s detained by the notoriously corrupt police to act as a witness while they search and pilfer the apartment of a suspected criminal.
Juanchi is desperate to make it back to the city to spend one last evening with his girlfriend before heading off on a business trip. So desperate, in fact, that he’s willing to bum a ride with an obnoxious stand-up comedian, whose specialty is animal impersonations, only to ditch him in the middle of nowhere when they run out of gas.
Then there’s the lonely doctor who stumbles across a stunningly attractive woman while on his break and arranges a rendezvous with her for later. Before they can get together, however, he finds himself sidetracked into helping a lonely paraplegic get back home…and up the five flights of stairs he must ascend without the help of a broken elevator.
In some ways, “Felicidades” resembles a bizarre Argentinean version of Scorcese’s “After Hours” crossed with the ensemble characteristics of an Altman film. Everyone here is trying to accomplish just one simple goal, only to find themselves thwarted by a series of baffling, often absurd conspiracies. While this leads to certain touches of ironic gallows humor scattered here and there, overall this is a piece that’s pierced through and through with the theme of loneliness. Smiles are hard to come by with these people; laughter rarer than a winning lottery ticket.
Bender gives us a world that’s just ever so slightly surreal; settings such as a creepy futuristic nuclear power plant and supporting characters such as the old man at the gas station who simply says he’s “scared”…but we never learn of what. While these tangents give the film a degree of depth, they also contribute to the gloom that makes “Felicidades” seem a lot longer than its 100 minutes.
This moody, uneven film, which cleverly wraps around itself like a Mobius Strip, never quite sorts itself out. Its closing shots of the abandoned comedian forlornly watching the fireworks by himself perfectly captures the lonely irony of this film’s title, “Felicidades (Happy Holidays).”

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