Today the focus is on life in Montevideo, Uruguay through a movie called Whisky. Uruguay is in the southeastern region of South America. It is a very small country that borders Argentina and Brazil which are both extremely large. It is another absolutely beautiful film, but it is not beautiful in the way Alamar or Ixcanal is beautiful. The characters do not live in pristine, natural conditions. They inhabit a world of shabby factories, homes and resorts that are falling apart. What makes the movie so beautiful is it’s treatment of excruciatingly lonely, aging characters.
Whisky was written and directed by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll who are both from Uruguay. It received international acclaim which was a really big deal because not many films were produced in Uruguay in 2004. But just 2 years after the film put Uruguay on the film map, so to speak, Rebella shot himself which is such a shame. He was only 32 and obviously very talented.
Whisky is a tragicomedy about two brothers who haven’t seen each other in quite some time. Jacobo, the older brother, lives in Montevideo, Uruguay and runs a sock factory that he inherited from his family. It’s outdated and falling apart. He lives in his mother’s home and has been taking care of her for years. She has recently died, so Jacobo is holding a Matzeivah for his mother. From what I can gather, a Matzeivah is a Jewish ceremony that has to do with putting a tombstone on a grave. He has invited his younger brother, Herman, to the ceremony. Herman, who has a wife, kids and a very successful sock factory in Brazil, moved to Brazil several years earlier so the brothers have not seen one another in quite some time.
For some reason, Jacobo doesn’t want Herman to know he was never married so asks his most loyal employee, Marta, to pretend she is his wife. Marta, for some reason, agrees. She says they need to have a photo taken together to make the wedding seem legit. At the photo shoot, the photographer says “say whisky”, which is what they say in Uruguay instead of “cheese”. It’s the only time Jacobo smiles in the entire film. (He is an incredibly stubborn man, to his own detriment.)
The movie makes us experience the mundanity of Marta and Jacobo’s lives. They do the same things over and over and over, day after day after day. Amazingly, the repetitiveness, even though it is excruciatingly slow, does not make the film boring. When we first meet Herman, he seems lively in comparison. He suggests they all go to Piriápolis after the Matzeivah which is a resort area he and Jacobo used to go to with their parents as kids. Jacobo doesn’t want to go but Marta is excited by the idea. It’s just a short drive down the coast from Montevideo. It feels abandoned and run down, too, but it has a positive affect on Marta.
I won’t say anything further about the plot of the movie, but I do want to mention that the film is an allegory for Uruguay’s economic relationship with Brazil.
Here is what I’ve learned:
- Brazil and Uruguay are neighboring countries that have very close political, economic, and cultural ties. They have a very strong historical connection, too.
- While Uruguayans feel connected to the people of Brazil, they resent being economically dependent on them. Brazilians and Argentines make up the bulk of Uruguay’s tourist industry. If the economy is not good in either country, Uruguay suffers economically. When Uruguay suffers, younger people leave to go where the economy is better. This increases the average age of the population and lowers the birthrate which causes tax revenue to fall. And this makes the people of Uruguay even more dependent upon Brazil.
- There are currently 20,000 Jews in Montevideo. (I looked this up because a Matzeivah sounded very Jewish to me and the film very intentionally zooms in on a Menorah amongst the mess in Jacobo’s home at one point.) Uruguay has the 4th largest population of Jews in South America. (Argentina has the most, followed by Brazil, and then Chile.) The first synagogue was opened in Montevideo in 1917. Jewish schools opened shortly after that. Most immigration was German Jews and Italian Jews in the 1920s and 1930s. After WWII, Uruguayan Jews were mostly middle class. Uruguay was one of the first nations to recognize Israel. In the early 1990s, however, there were 40,000 Jews in Montevideo. When the economy tanked in the 1990s and early 2000, substantial numbers moved to Israel.