If there's a more depressing place on Earth than a broken-down sock factory in Montevideo, Uruguay, then the filmmakers of the world are hereby challenged to discover it. In the mordantly funny deadpan comedy Whisky, grizzled 60-year-old Andres Pazos and his right-hand woman Mirella Pascual go through the same dreary routine every day: Pazos yanks open a metallic garage door, flips on the whirring machines and flickering florescent lights, and works on the busted blinds in his office. The day ends with Pascual checking the two or three other employees' bags for stolen socks and giving them a send-off ("See you tomorrow, God willing") that sounds like the Grim Reaper waits just around the corner. Taking a pageor really a full novelfrom Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise and Aki Kaurismäki's vast filmography, directors Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll have mastered their droll minimalism, eking plenty of bleak comedy and pathos out of very little action.
As the film opens, the Jewish Pazos is preparing for the traditional unveiling of a headstone one year after his mother's death. His estranged brother Jorge Bolani, who missed the funeral and wasn't present during his mother's illness, is scheduled to fly in from Brazil, where he leads a decidedly more upscale and accomplished life than his sibling. Perhaps to curb the awkwardness of their reunion or put a brighter spin on his lonely destitution, Pazos asks his spinster assistant Pascual to pose as his wife while his brother is in town. To his surprise, Pascual takes to the task with enthusiasm, arranging for the fake newlyweds to have their portrait taken ("whisky" is the Uruguayan photographer's equivalent to "cheeeeese!") and setting his house in order. As a gesture of goodwill, Bolani unexpectedly extends his stay by proposing that the three of them go to the same seaside resort that he and Pazos visited as children.
Though accomplished by any measure, Whisky may be more noteworthy for what it doesn't do than what it does. Sham marriages like the one between Pazos and Pascual are a staple of lowbrow farce, with the laughs coming from the couple scrambling wildly to cover up the truth. As it turns out, the portrait and an ill-fitting wedding ring are just about all it takes to convince Bolani that they're a legitimate match, maybe because they know each other like a married couple anyway. That allows other revelations to surface, such as the infectious pleasure that the sour-faced Pascual gets out of their little adventure or the deep-seated tension between the brothers over Bolani's failure to care for their mother. With patience and a minimum of affect, Whisky draws out their sad dynamic like maple from bark.