Cleopatra (2003)

"Good"

Cleopatra (2003) Review


As Cleopatra, a retired Buenos Aires school teacher who is struggling to get by after her husband's layoff, and whose children long ago moved away, actress Norma Aleandro has a real screen presence. Her character is meant to be one who impacts those around her, and in Aleandro you can see it: She has a way of drinking in what others tell her, her bright eyes pondering their words with a bird-like stare, and she has a long, beaky nose. When she speaks, she flutters her hands or clutches at nonexistent pearls, and there's a swing in her walk that recalls nothing so much as a pigeon. Her openness to life is telegraphed in her reactions. In one scene she's taken with a song she hears on the radio while driving; when the man singing it says that his journey of self-discovery has revealed that there's a woman inside him, "and it's me," she blinks in surprise, considers this revelation, and then continues with her appreciation.

Aleandro is at the heart of the 2003 Argentinean film Cleopatra, and her quirky charm carries the film. The story follows her adventures after a chance encounter puts her in the company of a much younger and very beautiful television star named Sandra (Natalia Oreiro); Sandra is fed up with her producer/boyfriend, who's more obsessed with Sandra's career than with Sandra herself, and Cleo is fed up with her husband, who's given up on life following the loss of his job. Together the two embark on their own journey of self-discovery, taking off into the Argentinean hinterlands without notice and without a plan.

Although publicity for the movie compares it to Thelma and Louise (and there are obvious parallels), the extent to which Cleopatra remains the focus of the film called to mind, for me, Amélie or Harry and Tonto instead. Early on in the film Cleo remarks that she envies Sandra's job as an actress because it provides her with the opportunity to try on other identities, and as the two encounter strangers in their travels, Cleo tries out a few harmless lies: she's unmarried and childless, she's an actress herself, and so on. She experiments with new activities, such as driving, and she steers the troubled Sandra toward a happier life. Naturally, the two women encounter a handsome young rancher (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who takes a shine to Sandra, and vice versa; the film's central question becomes whether or not either woman will return from the freedom of the road to their comparatively stifling former lives.

Cleopatra is a self-consciously quirky affair, but its charms outweigh its affectations, and the picture provides some genuine laughs. (Chief among these, thanks to a really hilarious turn by Aleandro, is a TV audition Cleopatra attends during which she becomes so nervous that she pees her pants.) Its mechanism is familiar (if not its ending, which is a little bit arbitrary), and director Eduardo Mignogna unfortunately indulges a screenplay that requires Cleopatra to speak directly to the camera on a few occasions. But enough is new about this road - and Aleandro is a good enough actress - to make it a pleasurable ride all the same.

Cleopatra, along with the Argentinean films Vidas Privadas and Dos Tipos Duros, is newly available on DVD as part of 20th Century Fox's Latin Cinema collection.



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