Son of the Bride (Spanish)

A character in “Son of the Bride,” a movie from Argentina, says he never watches Argentine films. Even in its homeland, Argentine cinema gets no respect.

That may be difficult to understand for those of us whose only exposure to films from that country include the recent “Nine Queens” and “Son of the Bride,” two fantastic movies that put a lot of Hollywood productions to shame. We have to assume either that these are the exceptions and not the rule, or that the Argentines are extraordinarily picky about what movies they like.

“Son of the Bride” was nominated for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar this year, and it is fairly typical of movies appearing in that category: whimsical, touching and sensitive, if not especially life-altering.

It is about Rafael Belvedere (Ricardo Darin, who also starred in “Nine Queens”), whose cellphone is permanently attached to his head, who runs the Italian restaurant his father opened decades ago, and whose every relationship suffers due to the stress that flows through his veins. His wife (Claudia Fontan) divorced him a while back. Even when he gets to see his daughter Victoria (Gimena Nobile), he winds up neglecting her due to work-related crises. His current girlfriend, Naty (Natalia Verbeke), gets the short shrift, too.

Rafael, we learn, drove himself to distraction in trying to please his mother — and now that he’s successful, his mother (Norma Aleandro) has Alzheimer’s and barely recognizes him.

But the story is also about Rafael’s father, Nino (Hector Alterio), who has been a devoted husband to the ailing Norma for 44 years. She once served as hostess in the restaurant, and every man, woman and child in the place felt special when she talked to them. The one thing Nino never did for his beloved Norma was give her the old-fashioned church wedding she had grown up wanting; he was not religious, so they were married civilly.

Now, though she may not fully understand the gesture in her diminished capacity, he wants to have the wedding she wanted 44 years ago. Money is no object. He doesn’t want Norma to die without his having fulfilled her every wish.

Here is an unabashedly sweet relationship, a tribute to monogamous love and a celebration of marriage. Alterio and Aleandro are stellar in their roles as the perfectly matched old couple. (It is the fourth movie they have appeared in together, by the way, and the second time they’ve played husband and wife. The first was in 1985’s Oscar-winning “The Official History.”)

Rafael has a near-fatal heart attack that forces him to reevaluate his life. Constantly being on the cellphone is one major movie cliche; the near-fatal heart attack is another one. You overlook it, though, because Darin is such an astute actor, giving his character humor, pathos and frustration all at once.

Rafael’s pal Juan Carlos (Eduardo Blanco) is full of silliness that is forced and Roberto Benigni-esque. There is, however, one wonderfully funny bit in which the two appear as extras in a film, a joke that plays out like a comedy sketch and is completely out of place, but darn it, it’s funny.

Director/writer Juan Jose Campanella doesn’t keep the tone completely even, nor does he keep the film from falling into a small rut half-way through. But he brings it all together for a beautiful finale, and engenders much good will all along with his gentle touch and richly drawn characters.

B+ (; R, some harsh profanity, and some overheard sex during a scene played over the closing credits -- leave, and you'll never know it's there.)