Ernesto's Manifesto

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Ernesto's Manifesto
"What makes the film successful is its masterful central performance."

Everybody uses film for escapism from time to time. If you like to get away from the stresses of life by curling up on the couch with a warm blanket, a nice cup of tea and a few biscuits, a film with a happy ending makes the experience complete. So what if you could have a film whose happy ending started 15 minutes in and just kept getting better?

This is what Ernesto's Manifesto strives to be, and it's remarkably successful. Of course there needs to be some tension, some hardship for our hero to overcome, so David M Matthews piles it all up at the start - in such excess that it's borderline comic. Ernesto (Fernando Hidalgo) loses his job, is consequently dumped by awful girlfriend Veronica (Lisandra Tena) and is subsequently thrown out of the home they share. But he's not bitter. He's sure she's not being unreasonable - after all, she let him keep the plant he likes.

Wandering the streets, Ernesto and his plant stumble upon an old friend who gives them shelter in his workplace - and although that doesn't quite work out as planned, it leads to them having somewhere much better to stay. Ernesto may not always be the brightest bulb in the pack and he's extremely naive, but the same willingness to trust people that led to him being taken advantage of in the past opens up new opportunities as he tries to get back on his feet. His willingness to do favours without thought of recompense and to see the best in everyone he meets starts to bring out the best in people, and his life begins to change in ways he never anticipated.

There's a balance to be struck here. Naive Hispanic gardeners are something of a stereotype in US cinema and there's a danger that if Ernesto comes across as too simple then viewers won't find much to engage with. What makes the film successful is its masterful central performance. Television presenter Hidalgo brings great presence to his first acting role, for all Ernesto's quietness, and there's something about the way his eyes sparkle in conversation that suggests he's picking up a lot more that he's letting on. Despite his apparent foolishness, Ernesto always finds solutions to the problems he encounters. He's a different kind of hero, a man who grows by supporting others and is smart enough to know when not to take things into his own hands.

Matthews handles the slender story with skill and although at times it ventures into soap opera territory the supporting cast mostly manage to keep it on an even keel, with nobody trying to steal the spotlight. This kind of affectionate, undemanding entertainment is difficult to pull off well. You'll enjoy spending time in Ernesto's company, and find yourself looking at your own problems in a different light.

Reviewed on: 14 Jan 2020
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A kind but naive man loses his job, his girlfriend and his home on the same day but his warmth and honesty set him on the road to unexpected good fortune.

Director: David M Matthews

Writer: David M Matthews

Starring: Fernando Hidalgo, Amy Davidson, Adam Huss, Lisandra Tena

Year: 2019

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US

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