On Friday April 27, 2012, I attended writer-director Elia Petridis’ premiere for “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vincente Fernandez” at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
The theater was SOLD OUT!
There had been an ad in Variety during the week that helped generate buzz for the film. However, I think the attendance of the legendary actor Ernest Borgnine at the screening was a major draw. Veteran actor Barry Corbin (“No Country for Old Men,” “The Evening Sun”) also attended, which was a delight for me because I loved him as Astronaut Maurice Minnifield in “Northern Exposure.”
Elia describes the film as a “Spaghetti Western set in a retirement home.” The film playfully hits on the Spaghetti Western tropes. Mr. Borgnine portrays the fading-but-game Rex Page. Rex, a wanna-be actor, had his chance at glory but choked at a crucial audition. Now well past his prime, Rex believes his life has amounted to nothing despite a radio career and a loving wife, daughter, and granddaughter. After an acute health issue, Rex wakes up in a nursing home. It’s essentially a border town run by Walker, Barry Corbin’s evil sheriff character. Now Rex has an opportunity to live out the hero cowboy role he lost so many years ago. This time, it’s not for the camera – it’s for real.
Mr. Borgnine gives a compelling, genuine performance as the cranky, disheartened Rex Page. He modulates between the heightened reality of the nursing home and real life with ease. The grounded moments of the film are quite moving and emotionally earned.
Mr. Borgnine and Mr. Corbin are perfectly matched. Watching them square off in a game of “rat screw” is highly entertaining.
Elia deserves major props for finding young actress Audrey P. Scott, who plays Rex’s granddaughter, Clementine. Elia gets a fine performance from the Miss Scott. As an anchor to Rex’s emotional life, she carries a bit of the comedic and dramatic weight of the film on her tiny shoulders. Rex’s granddaughter is his legacy, and had this young actress been anything but spunky and luminous, the audience might lose sight of Rex’s true accomplishment.
Elia Petridis’ “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vincente Fernandez” is a lovely little family film (with the exception of a few rough words, as Mr. Borgnine noted after the screening to many laughs). This film will have you missing your parents before you can say “the Mexican Frank Sinatra.”
“The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vincente Fernandez” will be screened again at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach on Thursday, May 3, 2012, at 5:15PM. For more info, check out the Newport Beach Film Festival site.
For more from Elia Petridis, check out his production company site – Filmatics.