El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) is another very fun film from Argentina. It was directed by Gastón Duprat and Mariano Cohn, both from Argentina. They met in Buenos Aires during an experimental video festival. They began their career together in 1999 with a television show they created called Televisión Abierta which was an interactive TV show where the viewers created the content by requesting a cameraman to visit them to film a 1 minute clip. Sounds interesting!
The Distinguished Citizen was selected as the Argentine entry for the 89th Academy Awards, but it wasn’t nominated. It’s an interesting concept. An eccentric Nobel Prize Laureate named Daniel is from a small town in Argentina called Salas. His novels all revolve around Salas, but he has been living in Europe for years because he felt the need to “escape” his life in Argentina. For some inexplicable reason, he accepts an invitation from his hometown to receive a “Distinguished Citizen” award so returns home.
The film opens with his acceptance of the Nobel Prize where he offers a speech about how he is honored, but is also worried that the honor proves he has become mainstream and has lost his creative edge. The film immediately forwards five years where this has turned out to be true because Daniel now has writer’s block. This potentially explains why he returns home.
His return home is incredibly stressful. Daniel almost immediately reunites with his best friend who has married the girl he was in love with when he was a young man in Salas. The friend treats her terribly and they do not seem to be particularly happy. Daniel sleeps with a “groupie” who throws herself at him. This turns out to be the daughter of his best friend and ex-love. He is asked to judge an art contest which gets him in trouble with a self-proclaimed leader in the town who sends his thugs after him. It’s one thing after another for Daniel.
What I like about the movie is that, as an observer, it is difficult to say if Daniel is truly better off than the crazy inhabitants of his hometown. Their life seems mediocre, but Daniel’s life seems inauthentic and artificial. His art is based on characters with whom he doesn’t personally connect. He’s grown old, is unmarried, and doesn’t seem to be particularly happy. The crazy town people have each other and a shared way of life that Daniel perhaps sometimes yearns for, but no longer fits within, anyway. Those of us who have left home know you can never truly go home again. You aren’t the same after you leave. But perhaps you can go back to get re-inspired?
Oscar Martínez plays Daniel. It’s a wonderful performance! He has a long list of movies and television programs he’s been in, but I think this is the only film I’ve seen him in.