Much like The Artist, The Film Critic has little interest in plumbing the depths of its titular profession, instead preferring to revel in acknowledged clichés, superficial commentary, and a particularly unwelcome strain of purportedly clever, cultural investment that perverts cinephilia by asserting that anyone who engages in criticism actually, deep down, wants to be a practicing artist. At least, that’s one way of describing Víctor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd), a nationally syndicated Buenos Aires film critic who boorishly scoffs at the latest Hollywood releases with his colleagues and even doubts the quality of a film soon to premiere at Berlinale because, if the film was any good, it wouldn’t be premiering at Berlinale. Tellez’s pessimisms and certainties, however, are thinly veiled hostilities bred from his failing romantic life and fledgling attempts at being an academic, the latter of which writer-director Hernán Gerschuny merely hints at by having Tellez and a graduate student chat about Gilles Deleuze, right before he unsuccessfully lunges in for a kiss.
When not impotently lusting after aspiring intellectuals, Tellez retreats to his apartment to scrupulously toil on a screenplay that he believes will serve as a corrective for the ills of contemporary cinema. In a particularly torpid sequence, Tellez rails against the hackneyed premises of romantic comedies, citing When Harry Met Sally…, Notting Hill, and Love Actually as key offenders for their cloying views on relationships. He debates with Ágatha (Telma Crisanti), his niece, about their merit and she explains that they’re about sensitivity and feeling, much to Tellez’s chagrin and disdain because, of course, he’s a stuffed shirt without recourse to his emotions. And an asshole, to boot; he hasn’t given a movie “five out of five seats” in over two years and his editor describes him as “a terrorist of taste.” That jibes with Gerschuny’s cutesy touches, like having Tellez speak French in voiceover or dream in black and white; more predictably, Tellez explains to Sofía (Dolores Fonzi), a friend-cum-love interest, that he despises being analyzed himself, confirming Gerschuny’s adherence to the presumption that criticism is founded on self-loathing and hypocrisy.
Shades of Birdman abound, since Gerschuny’s failed conceit proffers Tellez as a satirical figure, lampooning the hubris and authority of a professional who claims knowledge and power over those truly giving themselves over to something bigger: the filmmaker. Leandro Arce (Ignacio Rogers) is such an individual, who chides Tellez for giving “five minutes to something that took five years,” and even goes so far as to blackmail Tellez late in the film through a tasteless bit of business involving an attempted suicide. It’s not that The Film Critic isn’t self-aware, but that its introspection emanates from a point of disingenuous interest in its subject, especially since the film neglects to explore Tellez’s process as a critic. Never writing, never researching, he’s simply a cad, loveless and disgruntled, a thesaurus-schlepping schlub ready to deploy his ready-made panders. At least, that’s Gerschuny’s tack as a mode of critique; instead of rigorously, savagely brutalizing a line of work by taking it seriously, he’s seemingly out to blindly confirm a character’s critique of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network: “You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the angry do nowadays.”
The Film Critic even bogs down to the level of something like an Adam Sandler fiasco (think Mr. Deeds) when Tellez finally kisses Sofía, which prompts fireworks and an orchestra, entrenching Tellez within the very genre he so vehemently resents. Without subtlety whatsoever, Gerschuny asserts that Tellez just needs to get laid and quit being so damn fussy. After he does, he’s able to uncontrollably weep at the schmaltzy content of his next screening and seems to be making progress on a screenplay—his true passion. Gerschuny has no object of critique, other than roasting a cliché that he acknowledges to be as such. It’s a craven form of cultural dialogue, which runs counter to a thoughtful film like A Useful Life, which takes interest in cinephilia and curatorial work as more than the moorings for alien souls unable to successfully make human contact.