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Not just a Spaghetti Western: A Chilean Western that ups the bizarre rides at WorldFest

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Diego Rougier’s Sal is a Chilean Western that's wilder than you could imagine. Cineblog

Sure, you’ve seen a passel of Spaghetti Westerns. But pardners, are you ready for a Chilean Western?

Diego Rougier’s Sal (Salt) is such a rare delicacy. And thanks to the folks who programmed this year’s WorldFest/Houston International Film Festival, you can sample it for yourself at 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the AMC Studio 30. But be forewarned: There’s as much Pirandello as pistoleros in this cross-cultural crazy-quilt.

The plot pivots on Sergio (Feliz Martinez), a budding screenwriter and diehard Spaghetti Western buff — his cat is named Clint! — who’s introduced while shopping around a script to producers in his native Spain. Trouble is, the producers are less than impressed.

 The good news: Diego was the lover of Maria (Javiera Contador), a lusty lady who’s eager to take Sergio for a ride (so to speak). 

“Even the names of the characters are terrible,” opines one. Another suggests that, since Sergio has set his scenario in the desert, he should include exploitable elements like “camels, an oasis, and some naked chicks dancing salsa.” Sergio objects, noting that his spec script takes place in the desolate Atacama Desert of northern Chile. All well and good, responds a third producer, but the screenplay “seems written by somebody who has never been there.”

Abashed but undaunted, Sergio packs his bag and jets to Chile, in the vague hope of finding inspiration for a rewrite in some small town like the one in his screenplay. Unfortunately, he finds much more than he bargained for in a remote and windswept community where he’s inexplicably mistaken for a tough hombre named Diego.

The good news: Diego was the lover of Maria (Javiera Contador), a lusty lady who’s eager to take Sergio for a ride (so to speak). The bad news: Diego was the enemy of a Victor (Sergio Hernandez), a crime lord who holds a grudge — and, much worse, employs gunmen.

By turns satirical and exciting, deadly serious and absurdly comical, Sal plays very much like the sort of Spaghetti Western homage that might been written by someone like Sergio (if only Sergio possessed any semblance of writing ability). Directing from his own fanciful script, Diego Rougier alternates between reality (or some reasonable semblance thereof) and fantasy, rendering key scenes from Sergio’s rewrite-in-progress as sometimes ironic, sometimes inspiring counterpoint to the screenwriter’s increasingly desperate attempts to live up (or down) to Diego’s badass rep.

Call the end result a meta-Western — which, come to think of it, a film festival catalog blurbster already has — and you won’t be far off the mark.

Sal is littered with visual and musical nods to the cinema of Sergio Leone and other Western myth-spinners — the movie actually begins with a moody harmonica riff that Ennio Morricone himself might be proud to claim — and populated with the sort of secondary characters who frequented the margins of nearly every Spaghetti Western ever made.

A prime example of the latter: Vizcacha (Patricio Contreras), a wizened coot in the tradition of those grizzled curmudgeons who aided every Spaghetti Western hero from Clint Eastwood to Tony Anthony. To be sure, Vizcacha is a tad more judgmental than those guys ever were. But never mind: When he snorts “Whore!” as Maria walks away from a close encounter with Sergio/Diego, she puts the dude in his place.

“Yes,” she replies to the insulting appellation. “But not yours.” 

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