Leonardo Favio’s powerful directorial debut, Chronicle of a Lonely Child (1965), is dedicated to his mentor, Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Argentina’s most highly regarded auteur. Early in his career as an actor, Favio became a frequent presence in Torre Nilsson’s films—two of the pictures they made together can be seen in this retro (a New York Film Festival sidebar), along with Favio’s complete output as a director: seven features and a monumental six-hour doc on the life and legend of his idol, Juan Perón.
The story of Lonely Child is bone simple—a young street kid nicknamed Polin (non-pro Diego Puente, in a remarkable performance) escapes from a juvenile corrections center and makes his way through the city streets to his home in a Buenos Aires slum, only to be caught again by the police. This unsparing account of forsaken childhood is developed through a series of short, impressionistic scenes impeccably limned in black and white by cinematographer Ignacio Souto. Austere and bleakly beautiful, Favio’s affecting film often plays like a 400 Blows directed by Robert Bresson.
After this stunning first effort, Favio seemed poised to go on to great things. Unfortunately, the two later films of his available for preview, The Employee (1968) and Juan Moreira (1973), are not in the same league. The first, a Grand Guignol melodrama, concerns a frustrated clerk in a small-town hardware store who lives for the day when his boss will die so he can take over the place and marry the harridan of his dreams. An exhausted movie, mannered and plodding, it plays like a student short padded to feature length. Juan Moreira, Favio’s first color film, is the saga of a 19th-century gaucho, a man of honor driven to a life of crime by the injustices of society. Frenzied, zoomy, and pretentiously operatic, stuffed with sunsets and heavenly choruses, it has all the earmarks of a third-rate spaghetti western.
However he is judged as a director, Favio was once a talented and attractive young leading man. Both Torre Nilsson films in the series are must-sees. In The Kidnapper (1958), which made him a star, a charismatic Favio appears as a tough-talking teenager. In Hand in the Trap (1961), he’s a provincial stud in a macabre Buñuelian coming-of-age tale about the dark secrets of a crumbling Catholic bourgeois family—it’s one of the classics of Argentine cinema.