The Peddler

The Peddler


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Into the dusty rural village of Benjamín Gould in the Argentinian heartland blows Daniel Burmeister, a portly, bearded man on a mission. In his late sixties, he may have seen better days, but, much like the battered banger that he drives, he just keeps on going, surviving on a wing and a prayer. Indeed, that rusty red Dodge, literally held together with timber, glue, and whatever else Burmeister can find on the road, perfectly reflects the spirit of improvisation and do-it-yourself craft that the 'peddler' of the title has made his stock in trade.

Burmeister heads straight for the town hall, where he negotiates a month's board and lodgings for himself in exchange for his special services. Burmeister, you see, is a self-taught, amateur filmmaker, with over 57 'hand-crafted' video features to his name – and as this joyous documentary traces what is just the latest in a long succession of small-town productions on which Burmeister has laboured, we are reintroduced, through the most improbably modest of routes, to the extraordinary power that cinema can have to galvanise a community and bring it together. This is Be Kind Rewind, only for real.

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Armed only with a cheap VHS camcorder, a formulaic, much-recycled script and a boundless energy, Burmeister scouts locations around the village and recruits his cast and crew from the locals – who will also be his audience – and offers them a mirror to their own collective identity and sense of place. The first two thirds of this documentary will keep the cynic in you wondering whether directors Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich are setting Burmeister up as a charlatan taking his hosts for a ride, or as a fool with delusions that his rough products are masterpieces – but by the end, when Burmeister's latest opus, with its no-fi production values and unpolished performances, has at last been projected onto a white sheet on the community centre's wall, you will realise that you are witnessing a minor miracle – the spectacle of a community both laughing at itself and celebrating its own untapped potential. Villagers who had never previously considered acting now refer to themselves as artists and dream of working in Hollywood. His work done, Burmeister heads off to the next village, with plans to make another "five or six films in the next four months."

Full of humour and humanity, The Peddler is a delight from start to finish, but the sweetness of its pleasures is finely balanced by the bitterness of its elegiac tone. For as Burmeister drives off into the sunset in his decrepit old Dodge, we are left to ponder not just his achievements, but also his dislocation, obsolescence and solitude.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2010
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A documentary about a self-taught filmmaker visiting a small town in search of a cast and crew for his latest b-movie.
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Director: Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano, Adriana Yurcovich

Starring: Daniel Burmeister

Year: 2009

Runtime: 84 minutes

Country: Argentina


London 2010

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