European films

Film review: The Distinguished Citizen – small town ideals vs big city dreams in witty Spanish comedy

This story of a successful novelist returning to his small hometown highlights the cost of fame and ambition, and should resonate with anyone enjoying a life abroad a bit too much

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 June, 2017, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 10:42am

3.5/5 stars

The saying “you can’t go home again” – meaning you can’t recapture the past – gets a witty and sarcastic examination in The Distinguished Citizen, a Spanish comedy about a highly successful Barcelona-based novelist returning to his small Argentinian hometown for the first time in 40 years.

Awaiting him at “home” is a medal, an honorary “Distinguished Citizen” title from the mayor, and hundreds of adoring fans. Played by Oscar Martinez, the middle-aged author is a typical eccentric creative snob who claims to despise fame, but seems offended at not being recognised. It’s implied that he accepts the invitation home because he’s in the middle of a creative rut.

But the hometown is more a rural village, located a six-hour drive from Buenos Aires. For a man who’s lived the celebrity life in Europe for decades, the trek is an exercise in frustration. The situations set up by co-directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn are predictable – the beat-up car will certainly break down in the middle of nowhere – but Martinez’s subtle facial expressions and comic timing make the gags work.

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Once in town, the author is treated like a hero, but his big city arrogance eventually rubs folks the wrong way. In between, he runs into his former love and best friend, and the simmering resentment takes the film down a more serious path.

Shot digitally on handheld camera, the film looks low-budget – almost like a made-for-TV film – but the performances are great across the board (especially Martinez, who was named best actor at the 2016 Venice Film Festival).

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At its heart, The Distinguished Citizen is a tale of small town ideals vs big city dreams, and the cost of fame and ambition. It’s perhaps also a story that some Hong Kong expats, who enjoy the cushy salary and weekend trips to Bali a bit too much to ever return home, could relate to.

The Distinguished Citizen opens on June 15

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