The best love stories don’t have happy endings, and Chicago filmmaker Justin Nico Flocco’s Sofia, shot in Argentina and chronicling the stranger-in-a-strange-land odyssey of a young American on the streets of Buenos Aires, is a brief, polished love and loss tale heavy on mood and style that holds its narrative cards close until its final moments.
Apparently dumped by his Argentine girlfriend, haunted shell Matthew (Flocco) refuses to give up hope. “I still believe…in the possibility of our love,” he says, and—as all lovelorn do—he wanders the Byzantine city byways, lost, searching for an answer.
The mean streets of Buenos Aires provide no comfort. This is love as obsessive, sweaty desperation, and after being threatened by thieves, Matthew finds temporary shelter with a cautious couple (Andy Riva, Antonella Saldicco), venturing into their bohemian enclave to further drown his sorrows.
It is a narrative puzzle all right, and one that effectively keeps us guessing, partly due to structure but mainly because Flocco, a handsomely sullen presence with a “baby face” whose eyes suggest reserves of withholding, knows how to deliver a close-up. He also knows the value of underplaying just enough to draw us to him.
The love story isn’t the only thing on Flocco’s mind, and Sofia also delivers an intriguing anthropological look at the young, urban, Argentine culture that briefly allows the depressed ex-pat into its good graces. In a concentrated running time, the picture offers a fine sense of place, a subtle cultural critique of American arrogance and finally, a cavalier Sofia herself delivering, perhaps justly, a sobering coup de grace forcing a final analysis re-evaluation of what’s come before.
Shot on the Red Scarlet camera and making impressive use of its latitude in contrast capabilities (beautifully exposed night and day sequences) as well as its expert ability to handle the picture’s deeply saturated palette, awash in orange, green, blue and pink neon colors of the night, the roving camera stays close on Flocco, suggesting a free-flowing dislocation right up to the final shot.
Flocco, who conceived of Sofia as well as wrote the screenplay (in Spanish and English, both of which he speaks fluently) and directed, has crafted a glossy and compelling film that leaves intriguing unanswered questions past its denouement.
Love hurts, Sofia says, and if you’re a fool for it you may just get what you deserve.