Watch out for Los Paranoicos/The Paranoids

Argentine film succeeds in its character studies

Luciano Gauna (Daniel Hendler) fears he might have AIDS. He doesn’t have any symptoms or much of a reason to be afraid, but he compulsively calls the help hotlines anyway. He’s unsure of how to finish the screenplay he’s been working on for years, but he’s insecure about letting anyone read it. When the day's over, he likes to relax with a joint, though he can’t even do that until he closes the curtains and lights incense at the base of his apartment door. Needless to say, Luciano is the titular character of Los Paranoicos/The Paranoids.
Luciano is visited by Manuel (Walter Jakob), a successful and confident friend from film school, who's returned to Argentina from Spain. Though Manuel tells him nothing about it, Luciano discovers that Manuel is producing a television show in Europe called "Los Paranoicos" about a loser named Luciano Gauna. In the pilot, Luciano’s television doppelganger narrates, “I’ve been a damn coward for all my life.”  The real Luciano is unable to confront Manuel and the tension between the two friends slowly rises.
Hendler's subtle performance as Luciano seamlessly marries an anxious disposition with the calmly disheveled demeanor of a Porteño hipster. The film unfolds at an unhurried pace, often watching Luciano in real time as he goes about his quotidian routine. Some viewers will undoubtedly be put off, but these long passages have a novelistic sense of sustained mood and focus. Los Paranoicos builds a sense of identification and respect with Luciano, instead of pitying his condition.
Manuel travels to Chile for work for a few days while Luciano and Manuel’s girlfriend, Sofia (Jazmín Stuart), hang out in Buenos Aires. They drink and smoke a lot, listen to fuzzy, Argentine indie rock and stay up late. With Manuel away, a different sort of tension arises between Luciano and Sofia. The obvious questions about loyalty and honesty between friends are tastefully written into the mood of these scenes without being phrased aloud.
Los Paranoicos is a risky film, willing to work at it’s own pace and ask questions without using a character as a mouthpiece for them. It doesn’t always work, and a few scenes drag in length while others don’t quite click with the story. But, the gamble is worth it to see such honest character development. Like Luciano, Los Paranoicos can only be itself.