El Bano Del Papa

Posted on: 29 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

'The Pope's Toilet' is the unlikely subject of an engaging, poignant and humorous Uruguayan film.

Don’t be misled by the title of Enrique Fernandez and César Charlone’s new film El Baño del Papa - The Pope’s Toilet - which is not as you might expect a crude comedy poking fun at the Catholic faith but an engaging and affecting drama concerning human aspiration.

The inhabitants of Melo, an unremarkable Uruguayan town on the Brazilian border, make a living as best they can but just manage to provide food for their families, while the customs police exact a hard price for turning a blind eye to illegal border traffic.

Then news comes through that Pope John Paul II is visiting. Crowds of 50,000 are expected to flood in for the visit. Many seize the opportunity to capitalise on this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Petty smuggler Beto is certain that he has found the best business idea of all: ‘el baño del Papa’ - ‘the Pope’s toilet’ - where the masses can find relief. He decides to invest the family’s meagre savings in the construction of the toilet.

But, just as he secures the keystone to his temple to waste and wealth, the toilet bowl, he loses his most precious possession - his bicycle.  However he is determined to make it back in time for the divine event.

An elegant yet determinedly realist tale from Oscar-nominated cinematographer César Charlone (City of God) and screenwriter Enrique Fernandez, it takes its initial idea from the 1988 Papal visit to Melo.

While focusing on the protagonist’s race against time to construct the laboratory, the filmmakers are able to set his struggle against the larger canvas of the community’s colourful adventures.  The result is a film which manages to be alternately touching, humorous and poignant, a testament to human dignity and solidarity.

Charlone and Fernandez’s decision to shoot the film in a semi-documentary style serves to heighten the sense of realism and urgency, while César Troncoso’s splendid central performance as the luckless Beto makes us root for him. 

In all then an elegantly crafted movie which offers a sobering lesson in life to all budding entrepreneurs.

By Laurence Green

Web Links

El Baño del Papa is released by Soda Pictures: www.sodapictures.com

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