The winter holiday season is known to have the highest suicide rate of the entire year. In Felicidades, the viewer is taken away from the bright side of the merrymaking to see the shadowy, sadder side of the holiday that perhaps makes death a not unwelcome visitor for some. The film takes place all on one long evening, specifically Christmas eve, in and around Buenos Aires, Argentina. We are introduced to a handful of characters who appear to be unrelated to each other, though the viewer will eventually see how many of their paths intersect, if not actually touch, and we follow those characters through their experiences on the night before Christmas.
The characters are for the most part on the outside looking in: an embittered stand-up comic, a man hurrying to a doubtful reunion with a former lover, a tired doctor looking for someone to share the night with, a father searching at the last minute for a special toy for his son's present. The narrative rotates from one point of view to the next, as each of the characters attempts to accomplish something that is very important to them: a ride back to Buenos Aires, a date with an attractive woman, the purchase of a wind-up robot. None of the characters exactly succeeds, as various difficulties crop up, sending each character down side paths that they must struggle through, often getting deeper and deeper into a complicated situation.
Nearly everyone in Felicidades looks tired, and the story is set against the backdrop of a worn and often grimy city, suggesting that each day is a struggle to get through, a holiday being no exception. The characters are all peculiarly isolated; even in the midst of festivities in the street, with dancers in costume, people laughing and drinking, and decorations strung up, they are clearly trapped in their own unhappy world. Communication, when it occurs, is generally by telephone rather than face to face... and even that often falls short.
Yet somehow Felicidades manages to not be a "downer" of a film, despite its uncompromising look at the dark side of the holiday. The positive note in the film comes from the characters themselves, particularly the doctor and the father: we see that despite the fact that nothing is going right for them, they are compassionate individuals who care about other people. In two parallel stories, the doctor is sidetracked from his attempt to get a date by a request for help from a wheelchair-bound man. One good deed leads to another, as the disabled man gets him to do "just one more favor" after another... and we see that he is also deeply lonely, grateful for even the dispassionate sympathy of a passer-by. The father shows his own compassion by attempting to speak up and care for an elderly and unwell man who, like him, has been deputized as impromptu witnesses in a police search. Do either of these good deeds save the day, so to speak? Not at all; in fact, in the grand scheme of things, they probably had no effect whatsoever. But the message of Felicidades here is that the simple quality of being a good person is enough to tip the balance away from misery. There's hope, it suggests, as long as people can be generous in spirit.
Felicidades is a fairly typical Vanguard release in terms of video quality. The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, though it is not anamorphically enhanced. The colors are fairly washed-out, with the picture as a whole having a grayish tinge that, given the effect on skin tones as well as other colors, is probably not entirely an artistic choice. The print is a bit noisy and blurry on the whole; the overall balance of the image quality falls on "watchable, but not particularly good." The English subtitles, unfortunately, are burned in.
The original Spanish Dolby 2.0 track is provided for Felicidades. It's adequate but a bit weak at times in conveying dialogue clearly; voices often had a muffled quality to them which made it harder to understand. Other environmental noises and music are acceptable; the track overall is fairly flat but without any specific problems.
None: Felicidades is the epitome of a bare-bones disc.
Felicidades is a good film for thoughtful viewing; far from escapist fare, but not presenting a heavy-handed message either, it offers an interesting and well-crafted slice of life from the less glamorous side of the pie.