DVD Review: The Peddler (a.k.a. El Ambulante)

Directors: Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano & Adriana Yurcovich
Writers: Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano & Adriana Yurcovich
Starring: Daniel Burmeister
Producer: Adriana Yurcovich
Country: Argentina
Running Time: 84 min
Year: 2010
BBFC Certification: E (exempt)




This sweet little documentary tells the story of Daniel Burmeister who is a filmmaker like no other. Travelling from village to village around Argentina, he approaches the local authorities asking for their permission to shoot his latest film there. All he asks is for food and a place to stay for the month it takes him to shoot, edit and premiere his work. What makes this even more special and desirable for the authorities is that he involves the whole village in the production, finding parts for as many people as possible and enlisting the help of any interested parties in the technical side of things. His offer accepted in one small rural village, we watch as he creates his 58th masterpiece with an old VHS camcorder and the support of the enthusiastic locals.

It’s a heartwarming piece that is especially intriguing to myself as much of my work involves running filmmaking workshops and making short films with members of the general public. Burmeister takes it to another level though, carrying his basic equipment out to some very remote regions and dedicating a full month of his life to creating a full blown feature film. His passion, enthusiasm and positivity is infectious and it’s wonderful to see the joy in the faces of the villagers who are being given opportunities they would never have dreamed of getting. Yes, the film he produces (“Let’s Kill Uncle”) is no masterpiece. It’s very basically made on shoddy equipment and the story seems to be very simple and silly. But that’s not the point, it’s the process that is more important and as we watch the village assemble for the film’s premiere, their reactions to seeing the film, with plenty of smiles and laughter, is a beautifully touching moment.

The documentary itself, like Burmeister’s films, is quite basic and functional, but captures beautifully the warmth and character of Burmeister and the village that takes him to their heart. A nice touch is the sort of side-plot of Burmeister’s car, which mirrors the man himself. Throughout the documentary the car is falling to pieces, but battles on, with Burmeister fixing his blown radiator with glue. Also, despite it’s dented bonnet and doors that are almost hanging off, the car is painted bright red and has a wonderful charm about it, again mirroring Burmeister’s elderly, not amazingly healthy (his breathing is laboured throughout) exterior yet zesty interior, full of life. We see him clamber up water towers and jump over fences at the age of 67. He really is one of the great documentary characters, there doesn’t seem to be an unloveable bone in his body.

Watching the production of a film in such an ‘all hands on deck’ makeshift manner is a lot of fun too. Burmeister knows what he wants (he has a handful of scripts that he remakes in different towns), so he shoots fast – his direction is straight to the point, without sounding like he’s barking orders. By taking working members of the public on as his cast and crew he stumbles upon numerous problems though so has to improvise frequently. In one scene a fireman he is using as a primary performer is phoned up to go and deliver a body of a dead boy to the morgue, so Burmeister has him quickly deliver one last line to justify another character taking over from where he left off. The makeshift grip equipment is brilliant too. We watch one solution to not having a dolly as having two teenagers drag Burmeister and camera along the floor on a big sheet and another when he simply shoots whilst riding a bicycle!

Overall it’s a simple and straight-forward documentary, but the subjects are so inspirational and likeable that it’s a pleasure to watch. I’d especially recommend it to anyone who’s ever attempted to make their own homemade ‘blockbusters’. It’ll make you want to try again and rope the whole town in to help.

The Peddler is released in the UK on DVD on 26th September by Network Releasing. The picture and audio quality are fine for what is quite a low-tech production. The only special feature (as well as a trailer) is a great idea considering the documentary itself: to promote the release of The Peddler in the UK, the producers put on a short film competition for people to make films in the spirit of Daniel Burmeister and the DVD’s special feature consists of the top three picks of these (and an introduction from Eduardo de la Serna). This is a great addition and the films are all pretty good, although my only complaint would be that none of them particularly felt as though they were made in the spirit of Burmeister. The winner had a homemade feel to it, but it was a documentary about a specific group taking part in fell running in Yorkshire, not a piece of simple family entertainent. The other two were quite slick-looking with minimal casts, far from the handmade ‘get everyone in town involved’ approach of Burmeister. Still, it’s a nice idea and the films are worth a watch.

The trailer for The Peddler:






2 comments

  1. I had a chance to see this at SXSW, and it was one of my favorites, too. Just like you said: sweet, simple, and delightful. Plus the ending was a nice bit of a twist. The only bad thing I can say about it is I wanted to see him in another village just to know if he does pretty much the same thing.

  2. He does say at one point that these days he reuses the same scripts (he used to make a new one every time), so I imagine it would be pretty much the same in another village.

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