By Pablo Suárez
For the Herald
“The role assigned to film distributors allows them to be in direct contact with the main players of the industry, so they usually have a privileged panorama of the state of things. And film distributor Pascual Condito has all the elements to be a good host at the time of exploring this universe in an intimate manner. His strong personality, the peculiar way he works, his passion for cinema, it all made him an outstanding personality within the industry,” says Argentine filmmaker Marcos Martínez (Estrellas, Sordo) about his new documentary Tras la pantalla, an engaging portrayal of a unique persona whose love for movies has translated into bringing to theatres hundreds of Argentine movies as well as the finest samples of foreign art house fare.
Two years ago, Condito announced he was retiring because the ongoing battle to keep alive a business constantly threatened by US blockbusters was bad for his health. But he didn’t retire. Instead, he downsized and kept on working in a different place, as the building on Riobamba Street where he had his office was to be demolished. A legendary building because many layers of the cinema arena were established there: a film lab, another film lab, some historical film distributors, the former National Film Board INCAA’s rating office, which saw the first screenings of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, just to mention one example.
Martínez’s unobtrusive camera films Condito in his everyday routine and we get to see him argue vehemently with film exhibitors who want to favour US mainstream features rather than the type of cinema he’s worked for all his life. It’s no news that although some 150 Argentine movies are produced yearly, only a very small percentage reaches the viewers it needs and deserves, since Hollywood commercial cinema floods the market in what Condito calls “a true massacre.” And he’s absolutely right.
He’s tattooed the face of Totó, the protagonist of Tornatore’s famous Cinema Paradiso, on his arm, has long thought of making a film of his own, has had cameos in over 60 Argentine films — and says he won’t stop until reaching 100 — and though he’s quick-tempered and kind of grumpy, you can easily see that, deep down, he still is the same kid who was totally mesmerized by the first film he saw, a western. Come to think of it, he’s a warrior and an unsung hero, too.
Tras la pantalla gives an accurate description of the local scene with its ups and downs, joys and hardships, and it includes snippets of conversations with film critics Diego Trerotola, Javier Porta Fouz, Hernán Guerschuny, Pablo Udenio, and Fernando Martín Peña, with filmmakers Raúl Perrone and Lisandro Alonso and screenwriter Pablo Solarz. It all adds up to a multifaceted, colourful depiction of a little-known side of movie business.
It’s only fair to point out that, considering how rich this material is, there’s some considerable potential left unexplored. Sometimes key topics are just addressed and not fully examined, or some scenes are cut short when they could have given way to more insightful discovery. But it’s also true that this panoramic view works fine for the most part and what’s more important, it captures Condito as a true character who’s not acting for the camera, but instead being himself. Which is to be celebrated.
Tras la pantalla (Argentina, 2015). Written and directed by Marcos Martínez. Cinematography: Sebastián Menassé. Editing: Andrés Tambornino. Running time: 64 minutes.