SIFF Amador: A Dead Man Saves the Day

A solitary bloom sprouts from a still, barren hill. Unsmiling and wilted, poor young immigrant Marcela looks just as forlorn and seems just as alone, trapped in an unfulfilling relationship and life. Yet just as she resolves to leave her “dearest Nelson” and bids him farewell in a note, she faints at the bus stop, suitcase in hand. At the hospital she learns she’s pregnant. “It had to be now” is her hopeless reaction. What’s wrong with Nelson? Nothing obvious. He’s a respectful and attentive boyfriend, when he’s not immersed in his flower selling/thieving business. Yet when she tries to imagine a future with him, she sees nothing.

When a woman offers her a job that requires no qualifications or training, Marcela is eager to get the advance so she can pay the down payment on the new flower refrigerator Nelson wants. All she has to do is care for Amador, an elderly invalid, while his daughter and family are busy building a new house. Timidly, the two fall into a rapport of teasing banter and conversations centered around Amador’s pithy perspective on life. Lying in his bed piecing together his sea and sky puzzle he philosophizes that life is like a puzzle: it’s all about “putting the pieces in the right place.”

Like the earthy tones and soft lighting in Amador’s apartment, Marcela’s days with the old man are serene -- until he dies. Then, plagued by nightmares and guilt, the panicked Marcela, with the help of a jaded yet kind prostitute with a wicked wit, scrambles to keep his death a secret so she can collect her salary at the month’s end. She fills his room with flowers, buys a high-powered fan, and tries to dodge the suspicion of his nosy neighbor. The prostitute’s well-placed quips and Marclela’s comedy of miscommunication with a priest who thinks she’s crying over the death of a loved one lighten the movie’s pensive mood.

It's a little Weekend at Bernie's meets Broken Embraces with slower paced, more subdued emotional drama. An overgrowth of “life is like a flower” truisms threaten to strangle Amador's more meaningful motifs, like the puzzle theme that rounds out the tale in the end. And Nelson and Marcela’s relationship also veers off into a seemingly pointless plot twist at the last minute. Yet the actors play their parts with the appropriate pitch, and the film’s lovely score and soft lighting imbue it with an ethereal ambiance. Although at times the film teeters on the brink of sentimentality and melodrama it thankfully never quite careens over the edge. Once you settle into the somber mood and contemplative pace, Amador's a pleasant ride. A melancholy, yet sweetly quirky modern parable about life, death, and love.

Grade: B