Scott Hardie: “It was ok.”
One of the best things a film can do, and this goes double for documentaries, is just to show us a professional at work. Simply watching a skilled laborer perform his craft or an artist assemble her work takes us out of ourselves and lets us experience what it's like to be that person. There are perhaps five minutes of great singing by the mariachi performer featured in Romántico, a man with a somber face and voice, but the other 75 minutes of the film achieve a lesser fascination. Documentarian Mark Becker's intention was to follow around one of the mariachi who perform in his California neighborhood, and he found a natural storyteller in his subject Arturo Arias. The film took an unexpected turn when Arias abruptly returned to his family in Mexico, but Becker followed him and wound up covering a year in his life. The film portrays daily living in an impoverished small town, with its hard labor under a hot sun and the constant anxiety over declining health without a doctor in sight, but it also shows us a father who adores his teenaged daughter (who seems nonplussed to be filmed) and listens to the stirring tales of a man who has spent a lifetime refining them. Nearly free of stylistic touches save for a few extreme close-ups and paired images, this documentary gets out of its own way and lets this weary, earnest man tell us his life story. It's rarely compelling, but it does inspire warm feelings and vivid memories.