Benavidez’s Case (2016)

In the opening scene of Benavidez’s Case, in which a Board of art dealers discusses the current financial returns on the contemporary art scene, we learn that Pablo Benavidez (Guillermo Pfening) is both Argentina’s most in-demand artist, and dead. Everyone wants a piece of Benavidez for their own, but with no possibility of further production, the best that they can hope for is imitations.

A flashback shows the man himself, agitated and arguing with his wife Lisa (Paula Brasca). He walks out into the night, dragging a heavy suitcase behind him, and heads for the well-appointed mansion of his psychiatrist Dr Leopoldo Corrales (Jorge Marrale) – who also happens to be an important patron of the arts (through his establishment The Residence).

A beautiful animated credits sequence shows a Pong-like ball passing through an elaborate moving maze. That ball represents Benavidez himself, lost in a confluence of past rejections and psychological traumas, played by Corrales like a character in a (video)game, and being driven inexorably towards the realisation of his destiny. We too will feel lost as the next 24 hours of Benavidez’s life in Corrales’ labyrinthine home are interspersed with triggered flashbacks to the memories of his past humiliations. This is a portrait of an artist as a young man – living in the shadow of his painter father, outclassed by his own artist wife, and an active petri dish of frustration, anger and self-pitying narcissism. Corrales is on hand not only to analyse his patient’s many failings, but also to guide him through these to an unexpected reification (and reinterpretation) of his well-hidden talent for turning life – and death – into art.

As the God-like Corrales, in his high-tech control room, manipulates Benavidez towards a transformative confrontation with himself, the word ‘case’ appears to refer to his psychiatric treatment. In fact it translates ‘valija’, the Spanish for ‘suitcase’, from the original title (La Valija de Benavides) – but nonetheless this is a film concerned with Benavidez’s baggage, both literal and figurative, and with how its contents, once exposed to the public, can be the makings of an artist. In one flashback, Lisa mocks another artist’s painting of a suitcase, entitled Keep your memory here. “Oh my god, name it The Suitcase, dude,” she complains to Benavidez. “So many concepts, only to paint this, which can contain only clothes.” Yet as Peter Greenaway knows, a suitcase can in fact contain all manner of artefacts, even if Benavidez has forgotten what is in his.

Too long and padded in its surreal journey through Benavidez’s disturbed consciousness, and too broad in its satirical lampooning of Argentina’s hipster art scene, Laura (The Good Fairy) Casabé’s feature is as flawed a piece of art as anything that Benavidez himself has created – but at its core, it shows a male ego caught up in patriarchy’s unforgiving tradition, and only able to express itself through violence against women. There may be no way out of that labyrinth, at least for Benavidez, but we can still celebrate its representation in (film) art.

© Anton Bitel