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Empty Nest (El Nido Vacio) (Unrated) **½

A scene from the movie Empty Nest.
A scene from the movie Empty Nest.

By Marta Barber, The Miami Herald

Daniel Burman’s Bergmanesque portrait of a marriage follows the fantasies and realities of a middle-aged man who anticipates the moment when his teenage kids leave home, and he is left home alone with his wife.

For years, Burman (Waiting for the Messiah and Lost Embrace, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Berlin Film Festival in 2003) has successfully painted in his films the life of the Buenos Aires Jewish community as seen through the eyes of a 20-something man. But here he deviates, sometimes not so successfully, from his winning ways.

Author and playwright Leonardo (Oscar Martinez) faces a midlife crisis when he learns that his daughter is about to spend the night away from the family home for the first time. Martha (Cecilia Roth), his wife of 20 years, is not as impacted by the news. Leonardo then decides to wait for his daughter in his favorite leather chair where he often writes.

”Do we remember the past or a fantasy of the past?” inquires a psychologist friend of Leonardo’s. Burman uses that theme to fill Leonardo’s imagination. Interlacing reality and fantasy, the director lets us determine which is which. Martha returns to college to finish a career she gave up for the family; Leonardo commits adultery. Is this reality or unfulfilled fantasy? It’s our choice.

Empty Nest doesn’t offer anything new in the style Ingmar Bergman made so famous, but the film captures your heart thanks to the fine acting of its two main characters and Burman’s deft hand. The film’s big problem comes in a scene that takes the couple to the Dead Sea in an image Leonardo writes down while waiting for his daughter. That’s where he struggles to read a novel his imaginary son-in-law has written with the title, The Empty Nest.

Burman doesn’t quite know how to wrap up his film, but thankfully, this sidelined fantasy comes near the end of it. By then, you’ve already connected with Leonardo and Martha and the ups and downs of their ultimately loving marriage.

Cast: Oscar Martinez, Cecilia Roth.

Director/screenwriter: Daniel Burman.

Producers: Anahí Berneri, Daniel Burman, Diego Dubcovsky, José María Morales.

Running time: 92 minutes. Brief nudity. In Spanish with English subtitles. 7 p.m. Saturday; GUSMAN