We don't often see bodyguards often in the U.S., do we? I probably associate them with the paparazzi more so than anything else, which is why observing the daily life of a depressed bodyguard for a mid-level Argentinian government official in El Custodio (The Custodian) was really quite interesting. Writer/Director Rodrigo Moreno's first feature film was the winner of numerous awards in 2006, including the Alfred Bauer award at the Berlin International Film Festival, given to a "movie which opens new perspectives in film art." That sounds about right to me, as do the the numerous awards doled out to Julio Chávez for his lead role as Rubén. (The Custodian was one of ten films selected as part of the 2008 Global Lens series, currently making its way around the country. Find it. Support it.)
Moreno is not interested in your attention span. From its first frame to its last, The Custodian is a third-person point of view study of one character whose job is, well, to basically just sit around and wait for something to happen. For the first 20 minutes or so, we know that Rubén (Chávez) smokes. That's about it. If you're still paying attention you might be able to figure what the government minister does, but for the most part we don't know who he is or why he would be in danger. But there's Rubén, following behind like a trained dog in the hallway, hands folded just so behind his back. He lives as another man's shadow.
Gradually, beautifully, Moreno peels back the layers of Rubén's character. Literally, as we see him trying on bullet-proof vests, but more so figuratively, as we learn, for example, that he's a talented sketch artist. He lives alone. His sister appears to have mental issues (illustrated by the fact that she thinks Rubén's "connections" can help her daughter become a pop star). He likes banana smoothies. He's never been in the ocean.
He's lonely. He's frustrated with the Chinese immigrant population around him in Buenos Aires. He's disgusted with the sexual exploits of the minister's daughter, but he's not above visiting a prostitute himself. He's bored by his job and frustrated with his life. In fact, he despises the very person he's hired to protect.
The Custodian is the type of film that can lose you at any minute. Symbolically, Rodrigo Moreno directs the film as if he were Rubén - slowly, methodically, unemotionally. There is little music to help you along and not much in the way of scenery. Moreno makes heavy use of fixed-frame shots (reminiscent of Michael Haneke's Caché) and long takes that seem to take you nowhere, but the patient viewer will find themselves fully engrossed by the film's tense finale. My initial impression is that additional viewings would bring to light important details from both the camera work and the dialogue (there aren't too many lines spoken here, so you know each one is significant and deliberate), but one could just as well find that the film actually doesn't have anything more behind it, and is simply a lesson in existentialism.
If you’re in the mood for a standard thriller, look elsewhere. The Custodian is more appropriate as an artistic study of film, but it's also evidence of another promising young filmmaker to keep an eye on.