Martín Rejtman’s 1999 Silvia Prieto fashioned a deadpan farce from the aimless circulation of objects and identities around its unsmiling title character. The Magic Gloves, the Argentine writer-director’s 2003 follow-up, is a similarly absurdist smart-com featuring another depressed protag navigating a yuppie Buenos Aires milieu.
A livery driver in his mid-thirties, Alejandro picks up an insistent old acquaintance in his car and, as a result of this reunion, stumbles expressionless into a new life (or not). It’s typical of Rejtman that Alejandro’s life-altering chance encounter with the would-be rock musician nicknamed Piranha eventually turns out to have been based on mistaken identity—and that it makes no difference. Timing is everything: Elaborate schemes come to naught; a long- established couple breaks up 10 minutes before a planned dinner party. Coincidence, however meaningless, is the law of the universe: “I love it how we’re both in transportation,” Alejandro’s new girlfriend (an airline stewardess) tells him.
The movie continues to collect characters —a depressed young dog walker, a porn director returned home from Canada with his Canadian cast—all defined by their fixed expressions and compulsive rituals. With its intricate ensemble patterns, often based on the exchange of economic services, and precise sight gags, Rejtman’s style has intimations of Pedro Almodóvar and especially Jim Jarmusch. (There are also echoes of Seinfeld in the characters’ self-absorbed, if not compulsive, concerns.) Rejtman’s worldview, however, seems very specific. Alejandro sells his car to invest in high-tech stocks, then buys it back and resells it to join Piranha in the one-size-fits-all glove business. Is this slow-motion spiral an evocation of Argentina’s economic crisis? Or just the emotional geography of Rejtman’s Buenos Aires?
The Magic Gloves is a city symphony in which the metropolis seems an illusory maze and the melody is based on a refrain of recurring riffs. Or perhaps it’s a musical comedy without music, save for the blasts of “pure rock ‘n’ roll” to which Piranha subjects his guests.