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    El Polaquito

    No exit

    The key to the bleak portrait of an exploited Buenos Aires street kid in "El Polaquito" is the lack of contrived hope.


    There are places where angels fear to tread — especially guardian angels — and these places are black markets and petty rackets. These are places where oversight does not reach, and economic arrangements are enforced not by civil law, but uncivil main and might. The Argentine film "El Polaquito," written and directed by Juan Carlos Desanzo, is a Dickensian tale, based on true events, of one boy's life in that shadowy, unsheltered space.

    Directed by: Juan Carlos Desanzo.
    Written by: Juan Carlos Desanzo, Lito Espinosa.
    Cast: Abel Ayala, Marina Glezer, Fabián Arenillas, Fernando Roa, Rolly Serrano, Osvaldo Sanders.
    Cinematography: Carlos Torlaschi.
    Edited by: Sergio Zottola.
    Music by: Martín Bianchedi.
    In Spanish with English subtitles.
    Clearview 62nd & Broadway Tues., Aug. 17, 2004, 4:15 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 19, 2004, 8:15 p.m.

    La CinemaFe 2004
  • Festival overview
  • Afroargentinos
  • Nina
  • Paloma de Papel
  • El Polaquito
  • Washington Heights

  • La CinemaFe 2003
  • Official site
  • The film does not stint in depicting the sophistication of the underworld in plain view, centered in Buenos Aires' main train station. Here, impostor bootblack Rengo (translated as "Limp") lords over a small fiefdom of child beggars, prostitutes, and thieves. Through collusion with the police, who are permitted a cut and perquisites, Rengo operates with a free hand. The film's teen protagonist, El Polaquito (Abel Ayala), works for Rengo as a commuter-train busker who imitates Polaco, a famed Tango singer. El Polaquito (who goes by Polaco amongst friends), a gentle street kid unable to return to an abusive home, chafes at being under Rengo's thumb, but Rengo has his means of control. He can assure that Polaco's sister, who prostitutes for him, is beaten; when Polaco is especially rebellious, Rengo has him arrested and incarcerated by police accomplices. Most of all, however, Polaco needs Rengo's patronage to survive. Buenos Aires is saturated with begging rackets; Polaco's one attempt to work independently, in another part of town, results in a mortal threat from another territorial, Rengo-identical petty racketeer.

    El Polaquito  
    Trapped, the resilient Polaco makes the best of it with an irrepressible buoyancy. He becomes enamored with one of Rengo's prostitutes, Pelu, and begins to think of escape in earnest. However, Rengo, after his wheedling fails to curb Paloco's flight ambitions, simply increases the violence quotient. Polaco's inherently gentle nature is no match, and his imagination is not developed enough to permit him to outmaneuver the experienced and muscle-backed Rengo. The filmmakers permit no illusions about the chances of child fighting against a sophisticated, all-encompassing system of exploitation.

    The film excels at fleshing out this system, enabled by official corruption, and laying out its players and its millionfold methods by which the most vulnerable, children or young women with no options, are coerced to work to enrich minor-league, but unhassled criminal syndicates. Although Rengo is portrayed as an unambiguous, irredeemable villain, the film clearly locates the supreme villainy in the system itself, which will always find Rengos to fill its positions of authority and Polacos to fill its yokes. Thus, the film finds itself in the social conditions critical tradition of authors Emile Zola, Upton Sinclair, and John Steinbeck. A common defect of lesser works in this tradition is an implausible, thin dramatization of a generic character "caught under the wheels," who exists only to dramatize exploitation. "El Polaquito," however, draws its protagonist with breadth and credibility; he is flawed, weak, addled, unreflective, and naive (all stemming from his adolescence), yet also sympathetic and genuine. The inevitably of the narrative derives less from a contrived damn-the-system fatalism than an objective observation of full, complex, differentiated characters interacting in a system with cognizable and predictable mechanisms.

    The film is not without problems, such as overdrawn musical effects undercutting the seriousness of the events, some overly schematic minor characters, and total privileging of narrative development over basic technical mastery or any formal pleasures (in other words, the prose is dry). However, the core dramatization is so competent, Polaco so fallibly human, and the petty underworld milieu so authentically constructed (from minimal production materials), that "El Polaquito" succeeds both as muckraking critique and particularized witness to hope eclipsed.

    AUGUST 13, 2004

    Reader comments on El Polaquito:

  • Based on a true story   from Inés, Jan 29, 2005
  • contact with mr desanzo   from rafael uribe, Jul 22, 2005
  • el_polakito   from rafita difiuri, Aug 3, 2005
  • distributor info?   from Stacy, Sep 6, 2005
  • Re: distributor info?   from Juan Carlos Desanzo, Mar 15, 2006
  • [no subject]   from Augusto, May 18, 2006
  • [no subject]   from ana paula, Sep 3, 2006
  • Im in love with him   from Luciano, Oct 30, 2006
  • [no subject]   from maria, Sep 16, 2007
  • para el polakito   from maria fernanda, Sep 16, 2007
  • para el polakito   from maria fernanda, Sep 16, 2007
  • te admiro   from natalymacedo, Nov 13, 2008

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