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Philosophy, Laughter and The Chills: Opening ‘Puan’dora’s Box

Posted by October 24th, 2023 No Comments »

Puan (2023) 
Directed by María Alché and Benjamín Naishtat
Starring Marcelo Subiotto, Leonardo Sbaraglia and Julieta Zylberberg

As seen at the 42nd Annual Vancouver International Film Festival

“Philosophy, ughh!” A film about a Philosophy professor? “Double ughh!”

Actually, Puan was one of the best films I viewed at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. Once again, Optimum Immersion was key: all I knew was that it was an Argentine film and that it might be a comedy. In a full theater in downtown Vancouver BC, I was the first to start laughing at (and later laughing with) Marcelo Pena, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires. The rest of the audience caught on and started to laugh soon after.

Early depictions of the character showcased immediately that Pena, played by Marcelo Subiotto, was central to this story and even though the charm of his nemesis may fool the characters on screen it didn’t fool me.

Marcelo’s nemesis, Rafael Sujarchuk, portrayed by Leonardo Sbaraglia, embodies arrogance without reservation. He stands in stark contrast to Marcelo. As the university community increasingly adores the charming Rafael, I found myself laughing less at Marcelo’s bumbling, yet intelligent, awkward, and foolish demeanor, and instead, I began rooting for him.

Perhaps life is a comedy in itself, though. Maybe that’s what philosophy truly is: an invitation to find humor in all the missteps, injustices, and absurdities life has in store.

Marcelo’s wife, Jazmín, portrayed by Julieta Zylberberg, comes across as a superhero when compared to her husband. This perception may stem from the fact that her on-screen presence emphasizes her strength and achievements, while most of the film’s duration follows Marcelo as he clumsily navigates through life. Nonetheless, as the film progressed into its third act, I found myself wholeheartedly cheering for Marcelo. So much so that in a pivotal moment towards the film’s climax, a single glance at his rival made me feel his triumph intensely.

Music frequently gives me “chills” – those tiny goosebumps on my arm that I often use to show my wife a tangible sign of being deeply moved by exceptional art. Such moments in film are rare, but Marcelo’s glance is one of the precious few that I can count on one hand.

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