Daniel Burman again at the Berlinale Return ticket

El rey del Once | The Tenth Man, Alan Sabbagh
El rey del Once | The Tenth Man, Alan Sabbagh | © Daniel Burman

Argentine cinema is in top form at this year’s Berlinale thanks to filmmakers like Daniel Burman. Burman has some prior experience of the German capital: his “El Abrazo Partido” (“Lost Embrace”) won the Silver Bear back in 2004.

His new film El Rey del Once (The Tenth Man) is screening in the Panorama section, a selection of the best independent films d’auteur. So the Argentine director is presenting his latest work out of competition, but he is out to prove that he’s not a flash in the pan. And that he does with ease.

The real king of Once

Once is the Jewish quarter of Buenos Aires, to which Ariel returns after a successful stint in New York. He had actually put his past behind him, but here is now, back in the hood he grew up in, a noisy, hectic place distinctively marked by its Jewish population. Ariel’s universally popular father, Usher, is the real king of Once [Spanish for 11, i.e. the 11th District of Buenos Aires], a ubiquitous presence that cannot be ignored. Usher runs a sort of charitable bazaar where you can find just about anything, from rummage donated by the estates of deceased locals to Kosher meat.

Ariel reluctantly agrees to help his father out in the shop. He makes an effort to get used to his new environment and make a success of himself, but disregards his family’s deeply-rooted Jewish tradition and, above all, his father’s heavy influence. Although we scarcely see Usher at all in the film, he is nonetheless ever-present because he is continually calling on the phone and everyone talks about him. Everything changes when Ariel’s marriage falls apart and he meets the fascinating Eva, an upheaval that ultimately leads to a return to Judaism and everyday life in Once.

Coming to grips with the father

Ariel’s return coincides with Purim, the annual festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of the ancient Persians. It is also an occasion for a return to one’s origins and making amends for past mistakes. In Ariel’s case, it leads him to come to grips with his own father, a local patriarch packed with paradoxes, a process which in turn causes countless problems, but also gives rise to some solutions. The protagonist refuses, albeit unsuccessfully, to recognize his own reflection in his father.

Alan Sabbagh stars as Ariel and Julieta Zylberberg as Eva in the telling of this tender story, in which not only family tensions come to a head. The protagonists search for their own way in life, which never leads as far away as it would seem. For Ariel’s way is the way back to his origins.