Son of the Bride
English Title: Son of the Bride
Original Title: El hijo de la novia
Country of Origin: Argentina
Studio: Patagonik Film Group, Tornasol Films, JEMPSA, Pol-Ka Producciones, INCAA
Director: Juan José Campanella
Producer(s): Adrián Suar
Cinematographer: Daniel Shulman
Art Director: Mercedes Alfonsín
Runtime: 123 minutes
Genre: Modern Families
Colour, 35 mm
Rafael is the owner of the Belvedere restaurant, founded by his Italian immigrant father. He tries to keep it going despite Argentina’s economic crisis and difficult family responsibilities. His mounting anxiety results in a heart attack, prompting him to sell the restaurant to an Italian corporation, even though Rafael knows that his employees will be fired. After that act of betrayal, Rafael undergoes a transformation: he abandons his individualistic and immature behaviour and stops neglecting his ex-wife, his daughter, his girlfriend and especially his father, Nino. Nino had not wanted to marry his wife, Norma, in a church because of his political principles, but now that she has Alzheimer’s disease he regrets that decision. Rafael helps him fulfill his dream of celebrating a church wedding. He also makes some decisions regarding his own professional future.
Campanella’s Son of the Bride (his second feature film made in Argentina), shares the same concern and structure of his next film, Luna de Avellaneda/Avellaneda’s Moon (2004): the acts of selling a restaurant in the first and a neighbourhood social club in the second become metaphors for the selling out of the nation. This betrayal needs to be – and will be – repaired in both films.
The extraordinary box-office success of Son of the Bride in Argentina and its nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film are undoubtedly the result of its crowd-pleasing qualities and the appeal of its performers. Darín and Aleandro’s fanbase certainly queued up to see these stars in tailor-made roles. But the film also presents an allegorical representation of Argentina’s process of disintegration that culminated in the crisis of 2001. While staging this process, Son of the Bride constitutes a fantasy of reparation and restitution in which the most distinctive features of the country in crisis can be negated or obliterated.
The film’s opening sequence defines Rafael’s childhood memories and superbly condenses the film’s thrust. A young Rafael appears dressed as Zorro, and some older bullies are framed by the V (for ‘victory’) created by his slingshot. After Rafael and his friends escape these bullies, there is a close-up of a B, this time the heraldic image of the initial of Rafael’s last name (Belvedere) and the logo of the family restaurant emblazoned upon the shield ornamenting its entrance. The beginning and ending of this journey are formally marked by those two written representations of a single sound in Spanish (V-B). This metaphorically represents the journey that the grown-up Rafael, his father and the film itself will complete: from the public world of political and ideological conflict (the V of ‘victory’) to the private world of family and affection (the B of the family name and the logo of the family restaurant); from the legacy of those who fought for a better world to Rafael and his father’s final decision to have a religious wedding ceremony signifying a struggle for a better family. In this way, the film vindicates the local facing the threat of disintegration from global transnational capital, represented by the Italian corporation that wants to buy Rafael’s restaurant.
Rafael will eventually be able to fulfill his dream of becoming a Zorro – his childhood hero, a champion of justice, a masked avenger – but the mask will slide from his face to cover the exacting of justice itself: the religious ceremony is fictitious, since the Catholic Church does not allow a wedding when the bride has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot give her informed consent.
The film ends as it begins, with a family portrait and Norma smiling. The smile that characterises the mother’s image in Rafael’s childhood memory and that was the key to the success of the family restaurant is what has been lost with Norma’s disease. It is that smile what the photograph that concludes the film – and the film itself – intends to recuperate through the restitution offered to Norma through a religious wedding and the purchase of a new restaurant. The portrait of a smiling Norma surrounded by her husband and son would be the guarantee that the restitution has taken place. But why does Norma smile? Has her girl-next-door’s dream been finally fulfilled? In other words, does the film represent what Argentina – if Norma’s disease of memory is a metaphor for the nation – needs to reconstitute itself as a new local country where progress can be possible again in the face of the threat of globalisation?
An expanded version of this critique was published in Copertari, Gabriela (2009) Desintegración y justicia en el cine argentino contemporáneo,Woodbridge: Tamesis.
Author of this review: Gabriela Copertari