Luciano Gauna pulls the curtains shut to his apartment window and starts to dance.
This closure of drapes and doors confirms the distinction between personal and public reality in the Argentinean film Los Paranoicos (The Paranoids). Directed by Gabriel Medina, the film is the story of Luciano (Daniel Hendler), a struggling screenwriter living in Buenos Aires and working as an entertainer for children’s parties. His life, punctuated by routine paranoid gestures as well as a constant sense of isolation, changes when his friend Manuel (Walter Jakob) returns from Madrid with his new girlfriend, Sofia (Jazmin Stuart). Manuel is an arrogant yet successful television writer/producer who relocates to Argentina to enhance his career. Unbeknownst to Luciano, Manuel’s renown is derived from his TV show “The Paranoids,” in which he has mockingly modeled the lead character after Luciano. When Manuel leaves for business in Chile, Luciano and Sofia connect, developing an uneasy relationship.
What The Paranoids reveals is a successful demonstration of the different possibilities available in character construction. This idea is at the center of the film, built partially around the trope of identity. Luciano himself is a man without focus both in his personal ambitions and the stability of self. His identity is mostly masked, sometimes by disguises—the large purple “Cachito” costume he wears for his job—and other times controlled through friends and acquaintances. Luciano the man becomes Luciano the character, indistinguishable from the persona Manuel has replicated in his TV show. This duplication continues from the show to the film. We find it difficult to distinguish between “The Paranoids” and The Paranoids, just as the Sofia struggles to differentiate Luciano Gauna the TV character from Luciano Gauna the man. One of his few personal triumphs in the film is only possible through an alternate identity during a video game boxing match.
These discrepancies allow for many possible opportunities for identification. Yet Luciano often brings us to moments of ambivalence rather than a position of sympathy or curiosity. His fluctuating states of focus and passivity seem aimless and without narrative purpose. Instead of allowing the audience into the character’s subjectivity, The Paranoids keeps them vague and removed. Private moments are at times charming and compelling, but they’re mostly empty. Perhaps Medina is attempting to offer a character not only fragmented into different selves, but also divided into different screens. The dynamics between audience and actor or viewer and subject all accumulate to increase the voyeuristic qualities inherent within the film and in turn ultimately transform Luciano’s habitual caution to a state of uncertainty and eventually action.