Play for Me (original title Tocá para mí) takes viewers to modern-day Argentina, where we meet Carlos (Hermes Gaido), a drummer in a punk band who learns that his adoptive father has died. Grieving, Carlos takes his inheritance of his father's beloved accordion and flees across the harsh pampa with no particular destination in mind. He stumbles across the path of a friendly prostitute who helps him find his way to Los Angeles, the town where he was born, and where attempts to make some sense of his life.
There's some potential for interesting material here, in the story of the young man searching for his roots; in fact the film has received recognition at several film festivals, including "best picture" at the Brooklyn Film Festival. But it never really comes together. There are a few minor moments that stand out: the hovering old ladies telling Carlos to "eat, eat! you're too thin!", the image of Carlos, the protagonist, struggling against the incredibly strong rain and wind of the Argentinean pampa, the omnipresence of the antique accordion. But these are minor glints in a muddy (figuratively and literally) background.
Similarly, the surrealistic elements of the film, specifically the specter of Carlos' adoptive father, had the potential to add a dimension to the film... but the material is not handled particularly deftly, and the dreamlike interludes end up being jarring rather than illuminating.
It seems to me as well that the focus of director/co-writer Rodrigo Furth was on the visual elements of the film, not on the script; the dialogue is terse and sheds little light on the characters, who remain for the most part ciphers. In the end, do we really care whether or not Carlos finds what he's looking for? Are we ever really sure what that even is? As it is, Play for Me staggers along from one muddled scene to the next, never quite making the necessary connections between the viewer and the characters or situation.
Play for Me is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, at its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1.
The transfer is hideously bad. It's frankly an absolute disgrace for the DVD format; I've seen better-quality material on VHS taped off the television. It looks like Play for Me was transferred to DVD directly from a dirty, worn rental VHS tape. The image is blurry and smeared, with a generous amount of noise in the mix, as well as print flaws popping up here and there just to liven things up a bit. Colors are way off: trees and grasses are a drab olive instead of ever being a realistic green, skin tones range from pallid grayish-brown to unhealthy-looking red, and in general, everything is muddy, drab, and lifeless. In any dark scene, it's painfully evident that the contrast is abysmal as well, as anything that isn't directly illuminated loses all detail.
Just to top it all off, the DVD has burned-in English subtitles. That's right, you can't turn them off.
I figure that since there were actually moving images visible on the screen, I can't actually give this film zero stars for video, but if I could give a lower rating than half a star, I would.
The Spanish Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for Play for Me does get a higher rating than the video, largely because it didn't actively horrify me the way the video quality did. This is not to be taken as any indication that the audio is of an acceptable quality, however.
The sound is muffled and tinny. Dialogue is difficult to hear clearly, and the whole thing sounds flat and unappealing. At times it also appears that the audio track has been re-dubbed with the timing slightly off. The music portion of the soundtrack comes through reasonably well, but it generally overpowers the dialogue whenever the two coincide.
This disc has no special features, unless you count chapter stops. It's worth mentioning here as well that the subtitles are burned-in.
The DVD also gets bad marks for presentation: the back cover blurb appears in Spanish as well as English, which in itself is a nice touch, except that the Spanish text is badly punctuated and is missing accent marks, making it look remarkably illiterate.
No one should buy this movie. Even if there are some viewers out there who have seen it at a film festival and indeed liked it as a film, watching it on this atrocious DVD transfer would be pure torture and should be avoided at all costs.