Directed by Carlos Sorin. Spain/Argentina. 2004.

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A South American Shaggy Dog story!

Why is Latin American is so good at making movies about Pitt Bull Terriers? After the astonishing Amores Perros, we now have a very different type of film with the breed (or at least a near relation, a potentially vicious looking piece of canine whatever way you look at it) at its centre. In the UK at least, and the USA I'm sure, Pitt Bulls are considered a social menace on a level with gun crime, but the Argentineans seem to admire, even evoke sympathy for this breed.

Coco is an out of work mechanic, who ekes out a living making and selling carved knife handles while he touts for business at various garages and workshops in a desolate part of Patagonia. On his travels, he comes across a woman whose car has broken down by the side of the road and agrees to fix it for her. She repays him with a dog championship pedigree from her husbands' dog breeding business. So begins an enchanting buddy movie with a twist as Coco embarks on a journey into the bizarre world of professional dog shows.

Non-professional actor (apparently he was the director's chauffeur) Juan Villegas is perfectly cast as mild mannered Coco. He has a wonderfully captivating smile, which hides a life tinged with sadness but easily brightened by simple pleasures and acts of kindness. He reminds me a little of the guy in Il Postino, but lets hope he makes more films than he did. I loved the chemistry between Coco and the dog (!), how they're both misplaced souls seeking their true vocation - Coco an experienced mechanic and Bombon a dog bred for hunting. In true dog/owner style they even begin to resemble each other! 

The film perfectly captures the bleakness of its Patagonian setting, yet remains warm and uplifting. Ultimately it's a film of hope and friendship, which often bought a smile to my face. There are some lovely little moments, such as when Coco wins a pair of sunglasses that make him look like "the men in black", and the dog training scenes where Coco wears white overalls and resembles Bombon even more – you wonder exactly who is training who! The ending is just right and refuses to resort to the sort of gross overstatement that Hollywood would have given similar material. Recommended!

Patrick Bliss
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