Fernando (Federico Luppi) is a well-established university professor
in Buenos Aires, dedicated to instructing and inspiring future
teachers. But in the economic chaos that has become everyday life in
Argentina, he is abruptly forced into retirement, leaving him and his
beloved wife Lili (Mercedes Sampietro) to pick up the pieces of their
lives and try to start over again in what should have been their
Common Ground (original Spanish title: Lugares comunes)
opens up some interesting themes, though it seems to avoid adequately
exploring them. Clearly one central aspect of the story is Fernando's
attempt to adjust to his life post-retirement; it's a difficult
experience for him on many levels, from the practical need to make
ends meet on a suddenly reduced income, to the emotional need to make
sense of his life after so many years of identifying himself with his
In Fernando's relationship with his son Pedro, it seems that Common
Ground is trying to open up another theme in the story. Fernando
is a staunch advocate of independence; he seems to regard his son,
who emigrated to Spain and took a well-paying job rather than
continue to struggle in Argentina as a novelist, as a sell-out. Is
the message that we should stick to our ideals, even in difficult
circumstances, that we should seek out what makes us most content and
not be swayed by economic or practical considerations? That seems to
be what Fernando advocates... but the events of Common Ground
lead us to wonder whether he's able to put into practice what he
preaches. Does he actually find happiness in his new activities after
retiring? Does he choose to fight, or does he, in the end, give up?
I'm not suggesting that the film needs to resolve these issues one
way or the other: the very complexity of the issues and the conflicts
between ideals and reality make for interesting and satisfying
viewing. But the way the film handles the material, it's never quite
clear whether it's trying for a more straightforward them, and
muddying it, or whether it's trying to present a story of conflicting
ideals. In any case, the film does prompt the viewer to think about
what the events mean, and how people respond to difficult situations.
It's perhaps better to think of Common Ground as a "slice
of life" film, offering a glimpse into Argentinian life, and the
difficulties encountered by ordinary people trying to get on with
their lives in a country that seems to be always "in crisis."
It also provides an interesting look at the dynamics of exile and
immigration, as Fernando and Lili travel to Spain to visit their son.
As they tour Madrid, we see it through their eyes as a sort of
paradise, a rich and stable environment far different from the chaos
of Argentina, but in their son Pedro we also see the tensions of
giving up his homeland of Argentina to make a better life in Spain.
Mercedes Sampietro won the "Best Actress" prize at the Goya
(Spanish Academy) Awards as well as the San Sebastian Film Festival
for her performance as Lili, and it's easy to see why. All the actors
here come across as realistic people, but even more than the others,
she does a lot with relatively few lines, creating a believable and
three-dimensional character. By the end of the film, we've come to
realize that while Fernando may be the more outwardly expressive,
filling his notebooks with musings on life and circumstances, Lili is
the more adaptive, both inwardly and outwardly, giving an otherwise
sad ending a note of hope for the future.
Common Ground appears in an anamorphically enhanced widescreen
transfer, at the film's original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Some print
flaws are scattered throughout the film, and the image is a bit soft.
Overall, though, the image quality is reasonably good, offering a
picture that's natural-looking and pleasing to the eye.
Optional English subtitles are available.
Both a Spanish Dolby 5.1 and a Spanish Dolby 2.0 soundtrack are
offered here, but there's not much to make the 5.1 track stand out
from the stereo track. The side channels get minimal use, and overall
the sound is fairly flat and center-focused. On the bright side, the
dialogue is satisfactorily clear and clean-sounding. English
subtitles are available.
Common Ground has a fairly basic set of special features. There's a
trailer for the film and filmographies, as well as a set of weblinks.
A 13-minute set of trailers for other Wellspring DVDs is also
film without a strong narrative, Common Ground never really
hooks the viewer, but nonetheless manages to provide an interesting
viewing experience and a sense of satisfaction at the end. Part
character study, part slice of life from modern-day Argentina, Common
Ground won't appeal to everyone, but it's worth watching for
those who are willing to have some patience with the film.