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Lost Embrace

In Metallica: This Monster Lives, Joe Berlinger's lively, engaging book about making the recent Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster, Berlinger complains bitterly about documentary-style narrative films that ape all the hackneyed documentary clichés he so scrupulously tries to avoid: shaky handheld camera work, manic jump-cuts, and a complete lack of visual style, all masquerading as vérité edginess. The otherwise amiable and exceedingly likeable new Argentinean ensemble comedy-drama Lost Embrace would probably drive Berlinger into fits of rage, as it parrots just about every documentary cliché short of the oblivious, pretentious, usually English-accented narrator.

Scuzzing up its quaint sitcom dynamics and cuddly caricatures with superficial layers of indie-film rawness, Lost Embrace takes an affectionate look at a motley gang of exiles, refugees, and oddballs who work and live in a seedy, run-down Buenos Aires mall. At the film's inert center stands moody Daniel Hendler, a sullen young Jew who longs to leave his stifled old life behind and move to Poland. Hendler's seething bitterness is directed mainly at his absent father, who long ago took advantage of Israel's status as a haven for all Jews as a convenient way of ditching his family. Their relationship provides the film's redemptive emotional arc and big climax, but Hendler's resentment, however justified, comes off largely as whiny, self-pitying, and unbecoming, in the way patiently nursed and sustained childhood grudges often do. Thankfully, Lost Embrace seldom slows down long enough to get too mopey itself. Instead, it surrounds its dour hero with a buzzing little hive of affectionately drawn (though thinly conceived) supporting characters and enough subplots to fill at least a few episodes of Soap. At its best, Lost Embrace conveys, with real warmth, the hopelessly intertwined pasts and shared futures of a community of outsiders and immigrants. At worst, it's a sitcom without a laugh track.

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