Dir. Leonardo Favio, 1969.
78 min. Argentina. 35mm.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
With Walter Vidarte, Garciela Borges, and Nora Cullen
Imported 35mm print courtesy of Instituto Nacional de Cine y Artes Audiovisuales, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Special thanks to Juan Crespo, 3C Films Group; Maria Nuñez, INCAA; Marcela Goglio, The Film Society of Lincoln Center; and Carlos Gutiérrez, Cinema Tropical.
El Dependiente is the third feature directed by Leonardo Favio, Argentina’s own Gainsbourgian Renaissance man with the dual distinction of being a ’60s and ’70s pop icon and accomplished filmmaker. Whereas his first two features bear out of the influence of his mentors, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson and Robert Bresson, El Dependiente is another beast entirely that can perhaps only be compared to Eraserhead (1977) in its suffocating portrayal of abject dread brutally punctuated with disturbing, absurdist humor.
Walter Vidarte plays the title clerk, who works in a hardware store in a desolate provincial town. By day, he finds himself indulging in guilty fantasies of the accidental death of his kind employer so that he one day might inherit the store. And each night on his way home he becomes transfixed by a gorgeous young woman lurking under the street light. His approaching her eventually leads to a string of muted nocturne encounters in the girl’s dilapidated courtyard that grow increasingly anxious under the auspices of her doting, manically overbearing mother.
Filmed in a stark chiaroscuro rife with vast, empty spaces, eerie ellipses and an almost palpable sense of the forlorn curdling into a brooding menace, El Dependiente is, despite its quite considerable humor and charm, one of the most suspenseful and astonishing cinematic discoveries you’re likely to encounter.