On a whole, it’d remiss not preface this review with the statement that this journalist is largely unfamiliar with Latin American cinema on the whole. By contrast to the larger, better established European markets as Germany, France or Italy venturing into this nation’s output came with a degree of trepidation. And yet ‘UNA TUMBA PARA TRES’ aka ‘ONE GRAVE FOR THREE MEN’ (OGTM), was a pleasant surprise, though nothing ground breaking – no pun intended. It was included as part of the selection for the recent FANTASPOA Film Festival and given its kitschy entertainment value, it is easy to see why.
OTGM starts as a by the numbers crime story with an bank robber/enforcer named Victor (Diego Cremonesi) having his vacation unceremoniously cut short by two colleagues Manuel (Demian Salamon) and Juan (Daniel Pacheco). Understandably fazed by this intrusion Victor reluctantly accompanies his colleagues, on the advice of their mob boss Roselli (Chucho Fernandez) but given this premise, nothing goes to plan.
There is a genuinely appealing dynamic between the three low rent criminals throughout the movie. In the opening moments of the film Manuel and Juan bicker over the quality of pizza at a specific venue, whilst Victor’s face portrays equal parts fatigue and annoyance. Through the snappy dialogue, we quickly become privy to the job that these three are pursuing; they enter a seemingly vacant property seeking to capture Carlos (Hernan Marquez) a reckless relative of their mob boss. However, the foreboding silence is quickly destroyed by a seemingly invincible Carlos attacking them and all three retaliating with gunfire and killing Carlos. Problems immediately arise when their boss, calls to check in and informs the unlucky three that their target was needed alive.
Understandably vexed by their irreversible act, the three concoct schemes to cover up their mistake – with Manuel proposing the unconventional use of a mysterious shaman named El Chebu (Emiliano Carrazone). For a small fee, the creepy looking El Chebu calls on his expertise to reanimate the corpse of Carlos whilst Manuel and Juan drink whisky and Victor indulges in elicit substance abuse. Though, the effectiveness of the shaman is unknown at this juncture of the story, the impulsiveness of Juan results in a stand-off, resulting in El Chebu acquiring a swag of cash, drugs and leaving the three stranded as they await the arrival of their mob boss.
The sudden appearance of two vivacious but street wise women Sandy (Soledad Garcia) and Sol (Daniela Pantano) add an additional element to the mix, as now the tragic trio are left having to deal with new unwanted female guests, a problematic neighbour named Nelly (Monica Villa) and the impending arrival of their mob boss and his heavies. All the while the corrupt and irate Police Chief Rosas (Gerardo Romano) is also closing in on the location, with a posse of his armed police.
Cue a hilarious siege scenario, complete with a requisite shoot out and an unpredictable twist ending.
The way that the circumstances unravel and gradually become increasingly complicated, may sound tedious but instead of complicating the viewer interest – it makes it all the more hilarious. The three main protagonists all vary in personalities, and hence manage the circumstances differently. Victor is the obvious leader with a more practical outlook (that is before his rampant hallucinatory drug use occurs); Manuel is largely sensitive and friendly, whilst Juan is belligerent and impulsive. Regardless of the dynamic, all three are likable and it’s the interplay between them and other characters is the key selling point of the film. The distinctions in each of their characters, makes their behaviour, largely unique and definitely keeps the audience engaged. None of the three are the slick underworld types that boast the romanticised ‘cool’ factor of say Michael Corleone in ‘THE GODFATHER’ or even any of the ill-fated players in ‘RESERVOIR DOGS’; but their hapless yet well meaning abilities make them more endearing throughout the course of the film.
The compounding issues escalate with severity but the Director, Mariano Cattaneo has laced his film with so much humour one cannot help but to laugh; whether it be at the trio’s attempts to cajole their mob boss or even the brief introduction of bumbling two highway police officers who debate retro action movies. By and large, new characters are introduced at somewhat of a haphazard pace but it adds to the manic and decidedly comedic quality of the film.
Given the occupations of the leads, the corruption of law enforcement and the dubiousness of the mystic it was somewhat of a relief to have Nelly, the nosy neighbour as the moral centre of the piece. Though initially appearing as cantankerous side character, her history with one of the players is gradually revealed, with her own vengeance arc being pursued and her heroics are a standout.
Make no mistake, this is not the award winning ‘CITY OF GOD’ nor is it trying to be. At a cursory level one may think it shares more in common with Robert Rodriguez’s ‘FROM DUSK TILL DAWN’, but such a comparison would be an over simplification of what Mariano Cattaneo has achieved with this film. There are shades of the excellent but seemingly forgotten ‘PERDITA DURANGO’, but this is a genuinely funny and unique comedy.
More astute viewers may focus on the title to guide their cinematic expectations, however with a comedy like this, it is more viable to watch this with an open mind and just be entertained.