“In questions of survival, there are no rules.”
In the Argentinean film Common Ground, the country’s failing economy provides the backdrop to the misfortunes of a middle class, middle-aged couple. Literature professor, Federico Luppi (Fernando Robles) and his wife, social worker Liliana (Mercedes Sampietro) live in Buenos Aires. One day they lose their jobs. Both victims of budget cuts, Federico is also selected for early retirement for his political views.
The couple takes a holiday in Madrid to see their only son Pedro (Carlos Santamaria) who, according to his father, has sold out for the nice middle class life–giving up dreams of becoming a novelist to work in computer technology. The holiday to Madrid proves to be a failure, and Federico and Lili return to Buenos Aires with their financial problems unsolved.
With the government not paying pensions immediately, Federico and Lili face imminent financial disaster, and they’re forced to sell their spacious modern apartment and move to the country where they hope to grow lavender for perfume.
Common Ground is a tepid, rather limp drama that fails to inspire on many levels. First, given the financial problems experienced by Federico and Lili, they talk about shrinking their lifestyle, and living on a budget. While Federico grows more depressed, their life really seems to change very little. There’s still wine, still cigarettes, and still plenty of food. A further blow to undermine the film’s power is the unrealistic and idealized move to the country. This move is supposed to be a step downwards which will enable the middle-aged couple to survive–at least they’ll have the ability to grow their own food and develop a preposterous business plan. Not one scene of toil is evident–Lili removes home made bread from a primitive, ancient oven and serves it hot with her home-made marmalade, and Federico delivers a final knock to a stake in the ground, but that’s it.
By glossing over the hardships of growing your own food, the film weakens the dilemma of this city couple. From the viewer’s position, Federico and Lili while worried about their future, were never exposed to the true meaning of poverty. With a sanitized version of country life, their downsizing–which is supposed to be a hardship–looks like an enviable, bucolic retirement.
The film also skirts the issue of Federico’s politics. The plot allows him one or two vague token discourses on the subject. There’s also an entirely gratuitous scene that takes place between Federico and a woman named Tutti, and this is all part of the cumbersome subplot about lavender farming. Ultimately, this well-acted film goes nowhere. While it tries to show how Argentina’s financial problems eroded the life of one nice couple, it fails to do more than scratch the surface. In Spanish with English subtitles.