Mar Del Plata 2015 Review: HOW MOST THINGS WORK (COMO FUNCIONAN CASI TODAS LAS COSAS) Blends Social Realism And Indie Quirk In One Of The Year's Finest Debuts
Celina, a young and talented woman, should be entering the prime of her life. But instead she spends her days working in a toll booth along a road now seldom used since the opening of an improved highway nearby while tending to her ill father and avoiding her on-again, now clearly off-again, boyfriend and singing the Ave Maria in wedding ceremonies for a few extra bucks. It's not an exciting life but it's predictable and stable and she's not without her friends. She is, however, without her mother, a woman who left the family when Celina was just two and returned to her native Italy where she now works as a professional singer. It's a loss Celina never really addresses but has clearly never really overcome, either, and when the death of her father severs her strongest tie with her local community the time has come for Celina to delve into her own path and somehow find the money to find her mother.
The answer, of course, is door to door encyclopedia sales. But not just any encyclopedia, no. Celina will sell the fabulous How Most Things Work - the first ever encyclopedia that will answer all (or at least most) of your most pressing questions about life, love, wealth and happiness. And so off she goes on the road with her borderline con-artist, misanthropic co-worker and her co-workers son on a trip of which it is hard to say whether Celina is more focused on moving away from her past or towards a new future, a question which becomes irrelevant as quickly as the trip derails leading her across the path of an old friend of her parents and the aforementioned space-dog who, happily, did not actually burn up on re-entry and sports a spiffy NASA vest.
Like Celina (and Milos), Salem's How Most Things Work is a film that embraces both the gritty realities of life and its fantastic possibilities. Rooted in the social realist style common to the region, Salem presents Celina in simple, unvarnished terms as what she is: A young woman in a dead end job in a dead end town trapped in a tedious life out of obligation to her ill father. But Salem also never forgets that life can be an odd and beautiful thing, a factor baked into the film's episodic style that names chapters from headlines in the titular encyclopedia while having its characters wax poetic about the big issues in life directly to the camera.
Salem hands Argentinean singer Veronica Gerez her first acting role as Celina and Gerez proves quite a discovery, delivering a complex and emotionally layered performance in the lead. Gerez has a combination of fragility and confidence to her that proves essential in making this whole endeavor work and as things build to a rich and well deserved climax both director and star show remarkable confidence and restraint in ending things on a pitch perfect note. Salem directs the film in a deceptively naturalistic style, deceptive in how it hides the high degree of craft that lurks within and his light touch in skewing reality just enough to heighten and emphasize key notes throughout. An enormously impressive debut, the title of Salem's encyclopedia could very easily be ascribed to the director himself. He's already figured out how most things work and emerges here nearly fully formed. Here's hoping the second film comes quickly.