Street hustlers lost to everyone, including themselves
SMOKER ONLY : stars Leonardo Brezicki and Pablo Razuk A hypnotic and complex character study, Smokers Only is an exquisitely filmed drama about two aimless youths drawn to each other in the Argentine night. This haunting film—leisurely paced, and episodically structured—boasts a seductive yet seedy atmosphere that pulls the viewer into its dreamscape. Reni (Cecilia Bengolea) is a suicidal singer in a band who feels her life lacks meaning and purpose. One night, she spies Andreas (Leo Brezicki), a bisexual hustler turning tricks with various men in the city’s ATM vestibules. Reni finds Andreas intriguing, and after watching him participate in several of these highly erotic encounters, she befriends him. Although Reni is attracted to the sexy Andreas, she “does not pay for love,” and while she wants to sleep with him, she also wants to work the streets. Andreas, however, is mostly concerned with getting paid. Sex, he says, is the thing he does best. He also likes to be watched—and his anonymous encounters in the city''s banks are captured in grainy black and white on closed circuit video cameras. Smokers Only deftly chronicles the unusual relationship that develops between Reni and Andreas with appropriate detachment. Director Verónica Chen casually observes her protagonists—alone, or together—as they wander the empty streets of Buenos Aires searching for their self-respect, holed up in a cheap hotel room, or eating pizza on the street. The quasi-lovers slowly reveal themselves to each other as Reni hopes for some kind of intimate emotional connection. Perhaps the most moving image in the film is Reni clinging to Andreas as if for support as they embrace. The scene grows more powerful as the camera circles around them, capturing Reni’s expressions of despair. Chen wisely does not provide her characters with any history or background, nor does she try to explain or even understand their behavior. The director simply presents Reni and Andreas as they are, filming them in close up, reflected in glass, or against urban backdrops. The images have a documentary feel to them—all vivid urgency and visual texture. While not much actually happens in Smokers Only, the film has gritty atmosphere to spare. There are several astonishing, impressionistic—and often wordless—sequences that show the city and its inhabitants eking out an existence late at night. Unknown faces populate the bars, streets, and cafes, and the dark sky filled with ominous skyscrapers threatens the wandering Reni. These visuals are suitably poetic, and they speak volumes about the film’s protagonist, lost among them. Chen is not so much making judgments, as she is commenting on the character’s isolation and loneliness. Not all of the pieces fit together in this mosaic. A dreamy sequence late in the film, set in a field outside the city, is out of place (though this very well may be the point). The film has such a thin narrative, viewers may find the drama little more than a series of beautiful images that sometimes fail to connect. Nevertheless, the characters come to life because of the bold performances by the two leads. Cecilia Bengolea gives a stunning portrait of a young woman looking to be transformed by some experience. She makes her character’s journey compelling at all times. Likewise, Leo Brezicki has a cool moodiness that is wholly appropriate for Andreas. Brezicki keeps an air of mystery about his character, and his naturalistic performance is highy sensual and effective.