Martin (Hache)

English Title: Martin (Hache)

Original Title: Martín (Hache)

Country of Origin: Argentina

Studio: Tornasol Films, TVE, Canal + España, Alta Films

Director: Adolfo Aristarain

Producer(s): Adolfo Aristarain, Javier López Blanco, Gerardo Herrero

Screenplay: Adolfo Aristarain, Kathy Saavedra

Cinematographer: Porfirio Enríquez

Editor: Fernando Pardo

Runtime: 123 minutes

Genre: Modern Families

Starring/Cast: Juan Diego Botto, Federico Luppi, Eusebio Poncela, Cecilia Roth

Year: 1997

Other Information:

Format:
Colour, 35 mm


Synopsis:

Hache is nineteen and tired of living with his mother and stepfather in Buenos Aires. One night, at a club where his band is performing, Hache drinks whiskey and snorts drugs, eventually collapsing onstage. His father, Martín, who lives in Spain, is under the impression that Hache’s overdose is attempted suicide. He flies to Argentina and agrees to take his son home with him to Madrid. While Martín has not been much of a parent in the five years since he left Hache’s mother and Argentina, he makes an effort. However, a job prospect provides Martín with an excuse to leave Madrid with his girlfriend Alicia. Hache is placed in the care of Dante, Martín’s best friend. When Hache scores some heroin, Dante takes Hache to where Martín and Alicia are staying, claiming Hache tried to take his life again. As the four characters work out the truth and lies in the relationships between them, one commits suicide, and the others eventually disperse.


Critique:

Martín (Hache) is a well-intentioned but heavy-handed drama about love, family, and drug (ab)use. Aristarain’s film features good performances but unlikable and unsympathetic characters. Father and son are hardly alike. Whereas Martín is a successful film director, Hache does not have much of an identity; having grudgingly finished high school, he has no real interests or goals. He plays music for the sake of doing something, but has no aspirations other than to leave his family and live with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend. When she rejects him and he accidentally overdoses, his actions are seen as a suicide attempt, which prompts his father to come back and take care of his son. 

 

Martín agrees to take Hache to Madrid but he acknowledges that he is used to living alone and does not know how to care for a teenager. At dinner, father and son discuss why Martín left Argentina. The elder Martín explains that the country is self-defeating. This political speech proves to be a parallel for the characters – Hache, who is unable to find pleasure in things, and Martín, who is unable to express love. Incapable of connecting with his son, Martín jumps at an opportunity to leave Madrid with the coke-snorting Alicia, leaving Hache in the care of Dante, a gay actor and self-proclaimed drug addict. While Dante pursues pleasures through recreational sex and drugs, Hache’s sudden interest in heroin prompts Dante to return Hache to his father. Dante lies to Martín that Hache attempted suicide again. This section forms the film’s centerpiece, and Aristarain plays it out as grand psychodrama. Yet a subtler approach would have benefitted the soapy material. Martín gives his son a written list of reasons to live, because he is better communicating with others on paper than in person. Oddly, Dante, Martín and Alicia often talk about Hache while he is sitting there as if he were not around. The discussion of drug and alcohol use seems almost perfunctory – the characters never actively seek to change their intake or behaviour. This may be the film’s point – that these self-absorbed characters can only hurt the ones they love – but it is disconcerting, as is the awkward, inappropriate moment where a heartbroken Alicia attempts to seduce Hache.

The teenager, who dresses in black to (over)emphasise his sullenness and despair, comes off more as a symbol than a character. His voice is silenced almost until the very end, when he delivers a truth-telling message via videotape to his father and another character. However, Hache’s satisfying speech comes too late to be effective. By this time, Martín is coping with the realization that he has lost his family. The idea of family is further emphasised in Dante’s idea that Martín, Alicia and Hache comprise his kin. A gay man who sleeps around and lives in a hotel – which Martín regards as depressing – Dante has few ties to others. Why he and Martín are friends – and why Martín is so loyal to Dante – are mysteries the film never resolves. Likewise, Alicia is insecure for reasons that are never sufficiently explained.

The characters all come across as superficial. Martín is alienating and alienated, Dante is a flamboyant hedonist, Alicia is fragile and vain, and Hache is a blank observer. Aristarain never makes these characters three-dimensional despite a concerted effort by the cast. Luppi perhaps comes off best because he has the fewest over-the-top moments. Poncelo and Roth seem to be battling each other to see who can be shriller. Despite playing the title character, Botto does not have much to do other than act morose. But he does generate some emotion in his video speech and in an earlier scene where Hache admits that he did not turn out the way his father wanted him to. These are two honest and affecting moments in a film that could have used many more of them.

Author of this review: Gary M Kramer