Ariel Makaroff (Daniel Handler) has a job most young men would envy-selling lingerie to lovely Buenos Aires women-but waning adolescent angst, combined with waxing adult anxiety, prevent him from enjoying its perks. That is to say, he's a jumble of conflicting desires and double standards.
On the one hand, he regrets breaking up with his girlfriend, now pregnant with another man's child, fearing he has made an irreparable mistake. On the other, he longs to escape his familiar neighborhood, to travel and discover worlds other than his own.
Most of all, Ariel wrestles with increasingly complicated attitudes toward his too-present mother, Sonia (Adriana Aizenberg), with whom he lives and works, and his absent father, Elías (Jorge D'Elía), who left Argentina to fight in the Yom Kippur War and never returned. Ariel resents his father for abandoning his mother, even as he's repelled by the possibility that his mother finally has found a lover to replace her husband.
Meanwhile, Ariel struggles with his own sexual urges and romantic fantasies, some of which he conveniently realizes with Rita (Silvina Bosco), the sexy older woman who operates the nearby Internet café. But he can't even enjoy this playful fling, for Rita is attached to a mysterious man she refuses to identify-perhaps he is her husband, perhaps her business associate, perhaps her father-leaving Ariel perplexed about his moral responsibility and manly pride. Is he committing adultery? Is she toying with him? Who is using whom?
These vague misgivings and ill-defined dilemmas are thrown into sharp relief by an unexpected development-Elías' sudden return. Ariel not only must come to terms with his feelings about his father, but he also must process shocking new information about his mother, forcing him to reevaluate everything he thought was true about his past, as well as his expectations for his future.
Lost Embrace (El Abrazo partido), the third feature by 34-year-old director Daniel Burman, is a classic coming-of-age film, replete with obligatory scenes of the panicked protagonist running from, and then toward, his fate. Despite that the movie is set in the Jewish enclave of Buenos Aires, it feels like New York, maybe because the shopkeepers in the mall where the action takes place are unusually multicultural. An appliance-repair shop run by Italians next door to a feng-shui store operated by Koreans certainly evokes Queens, although, more importantly, Burman seems to have formed his cinematic imagination watching The Graduate. Apparently, Argentineans hate to grow up as much as Americans.
In this spirit, Hendler plays Ariel with deadpan charm. He is an appealing actor, his understated performance perfectly suited to his character, a disaffected but genial young man. Burman, likewise, makes the most of minimal sets. He wisely doesn't try to capture the bustle and pace of a large urban capital, focusing instead on the daily routines of a particular community of immigrants, a unique blend of Jewish life and Latin culture set to a world beat.
Lost Embrace dallies with a number of important issues, including fidelity and forgiveness, cynicism and idealism, and heritage and identity, but the story is intimate, preferring the personal over the thematic. A small movie by design, it does what it sets out to do-celebrate the good nature of those people who, despite life's difficulties, remain true to their loved ones, their friends, and themselves.