Villains are interesting because we cannot believe what they are prepared to do and then get away with their crimes while we keeping looking on, appalled, but also slightly amazed. With unsympathetic characters, it’s slightly different. My guess is that we are caught in the dilemma of not condoning their actions or beliefs, but somehow understanding them. We wouldn’t act their way because we are not them, but if we were, maybe we would make the same choices. The main character in Pablo Larraín’s Ema (2019) makes no effort to win our sympathies, but we get why she does what she does. To a lesser extent, we might also understand Francis’ decisions in Burhan Qurbani’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (2020), but chances are that we will never have to risk our lives crossing the Mediterranean, or deal with the violent antics of an adopted child.
Sergio in Initiales S.G. is not a nice guy. He is played by Diego Peretti, who seems to be a busy and well-known actor in Argentina. He held my attention for the first hour of the film, then he lost it. It all started out rather well: he had a major role in a successful film years ago, and he still lives on that credit, although he has to accept jobs in the porn business or as dying soldier third from the left. He is a fan of the music of Serge Gainsbourg, with whom he not only shares initials, but also a tendency for questionable erotomania. That Sergio also looks like Al Pacino, especially with a broken nose, might just be his main asset these days. If he were ready to see the signs, he might realize that his ailing movie career is over soon, especially since he starts to spurt blood from his nose all over his female partner during a porn shoot, and that is not the bodily fluid the director is looking for.
Other than that, he seems to be a normal middle-aged Argentinian man who won’t be distracted by women or jobs or anger management appointments if the national soccer team is playing. He is not cruel, he is just very untidy with his feelings. He wants to shag a young woman from the film crew, if she would only turn up in the bars he frequents. He meets an American woman his age, Jane, who is in the city on business. She is his way out, if only he were smart enough to see it: she wants to spend the night with him, even after he rejects her the first time around, and she is intrigued by him after he commits a crime because of his hotheadedness.
That was the point where I realized that I was watching a movie not about a gruff loser, but about a mild-mannered sociopath with stalking as a sideline. Sergio gets stuck in an elevator with a neighbor who has issues with claustrophobia; the neighbor panicks, and Sergio strangles him. From then on, I no longer had any kind of sympathies or interest for Sergio. Julianne Nicholson’s great performance as Jane took over for a short while, and she seemed to have a genuine fascination for him. We will never know what would have become of the two of them because Sergio makes her fly back home, uninterested in a long-term relationship with an alluring, attractive woman who is not repelled by his short fuse. His letting her stay could have saved the movie, but instead, we see Sergio how he tries to clumsily paw the dead neighbour’s devastated girlfriend by crying some big fat crocodile tears. And then he makes sure that the Argentinian film scene will remember him forever.
Too little, too late. You don’t send Julianne Nicholson away in a taxi if she has every intention to stay; it doesn’t matter if you are a fan of hers or not. I don’t think they would have embarked on a Bonnie and Clyde killing spree, but they could have made something out of the movie. If only Sergio would not cause the whole movie come crashing down before the end.