El Baño Del Papa

El Baño Del Papa


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Visits of the Pope to South America seem to have captured the imagination of the region’s filmmakers of late, with two films opening in the UK this month which use them as a backdrop for their action. A 1997 Papal visit comes under tough scrutiny in cop thriller Elite Squad later this month, while El Bano Del Papa (The Pope’s Toilet) sees John Paul II's 1988 trip to Uruguay provide the basis of character-driven drama. Despite the differences in approach and genre, there is a similar point being made by both films – that this sort of visit can have a seismic effect on a population whose weight of expectation can never be balanced by the unfolding reality.

Close to the border of Brazil and Uruguay, Beto (César Troncoso) lives in the small town of Melo with his family, making a quick buck by biking contraband over the border. Although not destitute, the bread line is barely a notch away, but lack of cashflow can’t deaden their dreams. Daughter Silvia (Virginia Ruiz), fantasises about a move to the capital, where she can learn to be a journalist - despite her mother’s intention that she become a seamstress - while mum Carmen (Virginia Méndez), in turn, looks set to accomplish her dream of seeing the Pope. Beto, like many of the locals, sees the visit as an opportunity to make some cash from the hordes of Brazillians the media claim will flock to hear John Paul II utter his words of wisdom.

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Unlike his neighbours, however, he isn’t begging and borrowing to build a food or drink stall – instead he's planning to construct a loo where weary pilgrims can pee in peace. Of course, it isn’t as simple as just sticking a bog at the bottom of the garden. Materials must be brought over the border and, thanks to a dicky knee, alliances must be made to ensure he makes it. As the day draws closer the family face tough choices over which dreams they want to discard in order to turn others into reality.

Although Beto is well drawn, the menace of the border patrol is never adequately explained and some of the subsidiary characters lack weight. Gripes aside, however, there is an energy to this low-budget film, particularly when we ride with Beto and his pals on the bikes as they race across the border, with co-directors César Charlone (an acomplished cinematographer who has worked on films such as City Of God and Constant Gardener) and Enrique Fernández making good capital out of the contrast between stillness and speed. The tone is kept light, despite the tough decisions being made and you’ll certainly be rooting for Beto and his brood by the time the Popemobile rolls into town.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2008
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A man tries to build a public loo to cash in on a Papal visit.
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Director: César Charlone, Enrique Fernández

Writer: César Charlone, Enrique Fernández

Starring: César Troncoso, Virginia Méndez, Mario Silva, Virginia Ruiz, Nelson Lence, Henry De Leon, Jose Arce, Rosario Dos Santos, Hugo Blandamuro

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Uruguay, Brazil, France

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