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by Eric Kohn
January 26, 2014 8:17 PM
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Sundance Review: 'Lock Charmer' Wonderfully Explores the Magic of Being Honest

"The Lock Charmer."

Set in a chaotic period in 2008 when a disrupting layer of smoke covered the city of Buenos Aires, Natalia Smirnoff’s sophomore directing effort  "Lock Charmer” is a subdued character study about a locksmith’s newfound gift to see hidden aspects of people around him. Heavily marked by superstition and his unwilling journey into self-discovery, the film’s protagonist exhibits an absorbing complexity, which is central to making this uncanny mix of credible performances and magic realism work.

Surrounded by a group of opinionated middle-aged coworkers, Sebastian (Esteban Lamothe) is a charismatic man in his 30s whose relationships are marked by his inability to commit. While certainly vocal about his fondness for having multiple partners, his intimate friend Monica (Erica Rivas) is probably the most constant presence in his life. Thus, when she confesses that she's pregnant and doesn't know the identity of the father, Sebastian’s first instinct is to suggest an abortion.

As a locksmith, his business forces him to interact with individuals from diverse backgrounds with very specific sets of personal difficulties. Yet his involvement with his clients is merely superficial: he simply offers a service. That instantly changes when, while attempting to open a jammed door for one of them, something unexplainable possesses him: His face takes on an emotionless blank expression for a few seconds as he recites brutally honest statements about his client's life — specifically, an adulterous love affair between an employee and her boss. Other revelations crop up when he's around different clients, taking the form of cautious advisories and awkward truths, but the utter randomness of their occurrences and the accuracy of their details baffle both Sebastian and those around him.

Visibly confused by the unwanted gift, which can be easily mistaken for unfounded judgment, he struggles to find a logical explanation in vain. Eventually, he meets Daisy (Yosiria Huaripata), a Peruvian house worker, with whom he involuntarily warns about her deviant boyfriend. Following unsolicited advise, she leaves her mate and asks Sebastian for further help.

Smirnoff's narrative unfolds in largely straightforward terms, occasionally elevated by the Sebastian's supernatural episodes. The character's platonic endearment with Daisy, and her devotion towards his shaman-like powers, make for some charming comedic asides. Always a sophisticated personality, Sebastian expresses a love for musical boxes and an irremediable fear of responsibility that demonstrate his insecurities and capricious tendencies.

Unlocking the subconscious needs of the people subjected to his odd skill, Sebastian sees in others what they don’t dare to see in themselves. Through scenes of touching vulnerability, Sebastian realizes that the key he really needed was the power to open up and understand his own emotions.

Lamothe portrays the locksmith as a man at once perturbed by the behavior of the women in his life and resentful towards his male role model — namely, his estranged father. The natural chemistry between him and Huaripata, as Daisy, matches the efficiency of the movie's direction.

Measured and never indulgent in its depiction of the plot's mystical ingredients, “Lock Charmer” does a great job at blending two genres and placing them in the strangeness of the 2008 setting. It's almost as if the foggy haze filling the air at that time served as a catalyst for a story like this to exist: Beneath the clouds lie the challenges of confronting one's mistakes.

Criticwire Grade: A-

HOW WILL IT PLAY? While certain to make the rounds on the Latin American festival circuit, "The Lock Charmer" has severely limited domestic theatrical prospects, though a small company with a penchant for offbeat foreign titles could muster a small release targeting its niche appeal.


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