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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » A Red Bear
A Red Bear
New Yorker Video // Unrated // April 19, 2005
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Lecter | posted May 22, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Adrián Caetano's A Red Bear (Un Oso Rojo) is all about redemption. It's about how we try to redeem ourselves to our families, our employers, and most of all, to ourselves after we've done a horrible thing. The only difference is that Caetano chooses to play all this out in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, Argentina - a place not often seen in film. His gritty, intense film takes us into the streets and slums of Argentina where the economy is suffering and the underworld of robbery and crime reigns supreme. This isn't your typical postcard view of Buenos Aires, but a more real glimpse into the lives of people that have to scrap to make a living, and who sometimes must do the unspeakable just to feed their families.

Bear has been in prison for the past seven years on a robbery and murder charge that he committed on the day of his daughter Alicia's first birthday. When he gets out, the first thing he wants to do is see his daughter and make everything with his family, but his ex-wife Natalia wants nothing to do with him. She's never forgiven him for leaving Alicia's birthday party to commit his heinous crime. Bear still seems committed to starting over with his daughter and Natalia, but he must first figure out how to reconcile his differences and show them that he's worth having around.

Sounds simple enough, right? Sure, we've seen this story before in film. The man gets out of prison seeking redemption for his crimes, and looking to make peace with his family. That's, thankfully, about where the similarities end. Caetano takes that simple story structures and turns all of your expectations upside down to craft a film that surprises and impresses at just about every turn. A Red Bear takes us into the world of suburban Buenos Aires like I've never seen in film before. We see the crumbling, dilapidated buildings, the struggling families, plummeting economy, and the dirty underworld of crime and gambling. Well, that certainly doesn't sound like anything I've heard on those travel commercials or seen on those gorgeous postcards. No, Caetano's film is a realistic, tense example of "New Argentine Cinema," which brings a level of care and interest to a world not often seen in today's cinema.

What makes the film so interesting is Caetano's sure handed direction, and his ability to subvert our expectations at all times. There are moments when you feel like you know exactly where the film is going or what the next shot will be, but Caetano chooses to take his film to an entirely different place. It's fresh and original, and that is incredibly exciting. He cuts, for instance, from the quiet atmosphere of a young girl's birthday party to the sound of bullets whizzing across the screen as we watch Bear commit the crimes he'll go to jail for in a scene that looks as though it's newsreel footage. The action is shot in a documentary style that contrasts the entirety of the film, but Caetano makes it work. His choice to shoot the opening action in this manner only makes the crimes seem all the more real, and in turn, makes Bear's attempt at redemption, after being paroled, all the more difficult.

A Red Bear shows that Caetano is a director who knows exactly where he wants to go with his material at all times. He has the confidence to take the story in a completely unexpected direction, a trust in his crew to get him there, and a belief in the intelligence of his audience to understand it all. He frames his shots to show the oppression of the crumbling Buenos Aires suburbs - there are times when Bear (and many other characters) actually look like they're literally imprisoned in their lives - and the hardships these characters must face to make it all work.

You wonder, near the beginning of the film, how Bear - a man that is unpredictable and violent by nature (and looks it) - could ever begin to foster a relationship with a daughter that has never even known him. Caetano, however, uses slight and subtle gestures to make their burgeoning relationship seem completely believable. Bear actually seems to care about Alicia (unlike Sergio who has been living with her and Natalia since Bear went to prison), and it's more than just the gift he gives her that connects them. In one of the film's finest moments, the connection is made explicitly clear in a scene reminiscent of the toothpick riddle from Last Year at Marienbad, only not nearly as obtuse. It is in this moment that Alicia, understandably, begins to want her father in her life for good. Whether or not he can stay there is what makes the rest of the film so damn entertaining.


A Red Bear is presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that looks much better than I had expected. The varied color palette of suburban Buenos Aires comes across beautifully on this transfer with rich, vibrant hues and muted interiors. Flesh tones are accurate, blacks are deep and true, and color contrast is excellent. Detail is good, for the most part, though there are a few soft spots throughout the film. Shadows and lighting are well delineated, and there's nary a sign of edge enhancement. The only real issues with this transfer are some inherent grain, which is to be expected with an independent film of this nature, and some dirt and spots from time to time. There's the slightest bit of flicker occasionally, but it's barely even noticeable. This is, nevertheless, an excellent transfer that makes the film look much better than you might expect from an independent film out of Argentina.

The original Spanish-language audio (optional English subtitles are also included) is presented on this disc in a Dolby 2.0 stereo format that doesn't fair quite as well as the visual presentation, but still manages to get the job done. Balance is good across the two channels and dialogue, although it is a bit low at time, is always clear and crisp. The wonderful soundtrack comes across nicely, but with no real dynamic impact. It is, however, nicely balanced and never overwhelms the dialogue. Pumped through Dolby Pro Logic II encoding, this track actually has a little bit of life to it. The low end comes alive, and there are even a few subtle surround effects. Overall, this audio presentation is adequate enough.

Unfortunately, the foreign theatrical trailer for A Red Bear is the only extra feature on this disc pertaining to the film itself. There are also four trailers for My Architect, Distant, To Be and To Have, and Tibet.

Final Thoughts:
A Red Bear is one of those films that took me by complete surprise. I didn't expect to be won over by Julio Chavez, and I certainly didn't expect his character of Bear to be able to win me over after the first few moments of the film. I didn't expect to see a side of Buenos Aires that most people are too afraid to show, and I didn't expect to see much more than your typical crime drama. Nevertheless, it seems that Adrián Caetano's film is full of the unexpected, which is what makes A Red Bear so endlessly exciting and tense. There was not one moment in the film where I knew exactly what these characters were going to do, and by the end of the film, I didn't even bother trying to guess because I knew that Caetano would just flip my expectations upside down. It's an exciting thing to be completely caught off guard by a film, and Caetano's strength lies in the fact that he's both willing to show a side of life in Argentina that isn't seen very often, and to do it unconventionally and surprisingly. While New Yorker Video has provided a quality audio-visual presentation, the lack of extra material keeps this disc from being highly recommended. The strength of the film alone, however, is enough for me to recommend this disc as a worthy addition to your collection.

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