Initials S.G.’s protagonist lives on the periphery. Sergio Garces wants nothing more than to be the main character of his own story, but instead, he finds himself a film extra, a washed-up porn star, and a Serge Gainsbourg cover artist in Buenos Aires. He’s as close to the real thing as you can get.
The middle-aged Sergio hasn’t given up yet: he still thinks of himself as a sensation in waiting. Initials S.G. is the sharpest kind of dark comedy, one that throws misfortune at its antihero, and laughs at his reactions. Performer Diego Peretti, along with writing/directing team Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, dream up a man who knows exactly what he wants and is destined not to get it.
When we first meet Sergio, he’s face down in a lake, playing a non-speaking movie role. When he emerges from the lake and dries off, we get our first good look at his handsome and striking face. It proves the last good look we get, as the assault on Sergio’s body begins soon after with a late-night bike accident. A clean and stable face is one of the many things that prevent Sergio from securing the work he needs in the movies.
Attieh and Garcia set their fourth feature together in 2014 for a single historical reason: the Argentine quest for the World Cup. As the narrator, who shows up only occasionally, tell us, Sergio measures his life by the success of the national team. This couple-day period, in which Argentine competes in the World Cup semifinal and final, must, the logic follows, be the most significant of his life. Everything beyond soccer – the movie festival set to debut 16 of his film appearances, his court dates, his affair with an American film distributor – is a distraction.
The facts of Sergio’s professional and personal life that one would expect the movie to perseverate about it largely ignores. Never has a movie about a porn star obsessed less over porn. Attieh and Garcia are more interested in the industry as a landing spot for actors who don’t get enough work than they are in the sex. As so with the relationship Sergio lazily strikes up with a tourist, a relationship he never commits to but follows him through his darkest days. He treats women casually poorly, so casually that a woman like Jane (Julianne Nicholson) can convince herself that he’s not, in fact, a disaster.
If Jane doesn’t punish him for his banal cruelty, the movie does. The cut Sergio suffers on the bridge of his nose in the opening scene expands and expands, ruining each day and raising his blood pressure. Sergio is well-practiced in losing, in going home to smoke and lie around when the world tells him once more that he’s not a movie star.
The slow descent of Initials S.G. is physical, and Peretti’s nose deserves its own award for its work. The magic of Peretti’s performance is the duel desire and unfeeling he’s able to bring to each encounter. His passion for a better life is always matched by his total disregard for the desires of those around him.
Attieh and Garcia hold the inciting action until the movie’s two-thirds point. The backloading of plot pays off, as Initials S. G. maintains its well-established, easy-going energy despite the dramatic shift in mood that takes place. Peretti and Nicholson are particularly excellent in the moments surrounding the climax when both performers commit all the way to their character’s relentless flaws.
The script remains tight through the final moments when the underlying sports metaphor finally clicks. Initials S.G. is a sneakily-clever portrait of sports fandom, of the immense baggage we pour into our teams, simply because they are a constant in our lives. Sergio’s passion for the national team is urgent and stupid. His relationship with the team resembles the one he has with his dreams: he’s sure he’s built for glory, with his handsome voice and smooth singing voice, but unable to assert any control.
“Down on his luck” doesn’t begin describe the misery of Sergio’s state by the movie’s midpoint, and the filmmakers find the piling on immensely funny. It’s a smart movie about a dumb man, with too much life in front of and behind the camera to bow to the darkness.
We screened the film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.