The unbilled star of Colombian director Luis Orjuela's good-natured debut comedy is a vintage 1950s Chevrolet convertible named Asdrubal. Movies are all about movement, and ever since the days of Mack Sennett and the Model T, filmmakers have been in love with cars. Asdrubal may not have the menace of Stephen King's Christine or the pluck of Herbie the Love Bug, but with her bright-red paint job and animal honk, she more than holds the screen.
As El Carro opens, the middle-class Velez family of Bogot is pooling its earnings to purchase Asdrubal from the next-door neighbors. The film's precocious 13-year-old narrator, Paola (Valenzuela), observes that a car is not just a form of transport—it's a status symbol, a sexual display, a member of the family. (The film is composed of a series of vignettes with scrapbook intertitles: "Baptism," "First Achievements," "Accident," etc.) Father Ciervo (Badillo) and mother Florina (Bossa) play out their marital dramas behind the wheel; son Oscar smokes pot with the windows rolled up; daughter Gloria finds romance in the backseat. When Ciervo threatens to sell Asdrubal, rebellious Paola takes her on a junior road trip, sporting dark shades, unlit cigarette dangling from her lip, radio blaring. Cars are a means of escape, too. Slight and sweet, El Carro unswervingly celebrates the family vehicle as a pleasure principle on wheels. (Opens Thu; Pioneer.)—Tom Beer