You’re plenty absolved for not knowing the deal. It’s been 30 years since Martín Rejtman’s debut feature (Rapado), almost 10 from his last (Two Shots Fired), and nearly everything he’s made is only accessible through darkweb torrent networks I wouldn’t name here for fear of losing membership. In recent years, still, a small-even-by-small’s-standards cult has emerged, a just-enough status for this master of incident, image, and interactions––hilarious as in funny-ha-ha, not the dread “arthouse humor.” If there’s anything to account for a non-pareil comedic director falling so out-of-step with means of exposure, consider what the landscapes––financing, exhibition, distribution––roundly not-great for just about anybody would do to a sui generis Argentinian.
A near-decade’s absence hasn’t futzed with skill: La Práctica continues Rejtman’s reign as Argentina’s purveyor of mirthful chuckles, his characteristically patient and absurdity-spotted lens now trained on the lives of recently divorced yoga practitioners. Not the most thrilling concept, granted, but one from which Rejtman extracts every angle: professional jealousies, mid-life crises, the indignity of opening oneself to disappointment, and a running gag––one among many––centered on yoga’s penchant for injury. Rejtman’s corpus evinces understanding that good comedy often emerges from simple concepts, and there’s hardly a better start than this film’s own. Which discomforts stem from monetizing your personal passion? Is it noticeable or gradual when that passion becomes habit? Why are immediate disappointments sometimes so much harder to mend than total upheavals? Most crucially: what happens when three different types of guy are put in the same room?
Rejtman’s cinema places emphasis on patience and opulence. Nearly every joke either repeats (such as a manhole gag) or returns in variations and spins, a comedic tapestry part and parcel of Rejtman’s keen editorial instincts: as plotlines that first suggest the extraneous come to reflect character’s core dilemmas, so too sequences end just as they’re growing distended (in one case culminating with the slight shocker of a CG shot). La Práctica is not what I’d readily deem a masterclass––few standalone objects ever are––but it’s total evidence that a formalist humanist not named Aki Kaurismäki operates in the modern day.
It’s plenty possible to celebrate Rejtman’s return while pining for the pure beauty that saturated his earlier films. This is the perpetual crisis, or at least the trade, enthusiasts of anything like a “marginalized cinema” must face: it’s such good fortune when anything gets produced that it’s invariably coming at some cost. All of La Práctica‘s strengths bearing in mind, one longs for what was given in The Magic Gloves or especially Silvia Prieto––his masterpiece, a film where every shot appears to have been captured at 3 p.m. in late summer. Here, as in Two Shots Fired, the digital images are admirable at the exact time they simply can’t measure against 35mm capture.
The even split is that Rejtman’s handle on the entire mise-en-scène framework stands immaculate. La Práctica is mostly relegated to interiors, nary one of them lacking dense, appropriate detail, information often conveyed in the stillness of compositions and the opportunity to note a space. Dialogues are notably variable in structure and pace: two-shots and shot-reverse come in equal measure, the former playing for time as the latter carries speed, tension, and a nearly Fincher-like knack for turning head-pivots and changing expressions into cuts.
No such qualities portend a major American platform, elevating Saturday and Sunday’s New York Film Festival screenings above most others running simultaneously. Of late––but also per usual––stateside interest in Latin American cinema’s experienced only blips, marginal as far as even blips go. Whatever landing’s made by La Flor, Trenque Lauquen, or an occasional Matías Piñeiro release is still conditioned by the fact that a) all three emerged from one national cinema b) two were produced by the same entity, and c) they were distributed by two companies. (One of which I worked for at the time and both of which I greatly admire, mind.) There’s no reason La Práctica––a handsome, funny, wisely melancholic film of just 95 minutes––should stand unseen, nor Martín Rejtman not be considered (however belatedly) a valuable asset in contemporary cinema (which he infrequently visits). As both introduction to and summation of his work: par excellence.
La Práctica screens at the 61st New York Film Festival on Saturday, September 30 and Sunday, October 1.