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'Whisky' is a strong shot of solitude

''Whisky" is a fine film of few words and very little motion. The camera never moves, and when its characters speak, their voices never rise above a whisper. Writer-directors Pablo Stoll and Juan Pablo Rebella build a tiny world of spareness, solitude, and sudden awkwardness entirely around two sad people in Uruguay.

Jacobo (Andres Pazos) is a humorless 60-something, though that long, grizzled face of his suggests he's been around for a lot longer. His moderately successful business manufactures socks. A typical day consists of what the film implies is an old routine. Early every morning, the small factory is opened. He closes it every evening. Then it's home to bed, alone. Wake and repeat.

This regimen has its complications. The blinds in his office, for one thing, don't always cooperate. For another, there's the matter of his very estranged, more successful, more energetic brother Herman (Jorge Bolani) who drops in from Brazil to reacquaint himself.

Despite Jacobo's forbidding, almost ghostly demeanor, he is one for keeping up appearances. He's living much of his life on his own, and Herman's arrival exposes a sense of shame over Jacobo's lack of a family. His answer is to have hapless Marta (Mirella Pascual), his most dutiful and presumably most senior employee, assume the role of his wife during this intimate family reunion. (The film's title comes from what Jacobo and Marta exclaim before their ''wedding" photo is snapped.)

While I'm comfortable calling ''Whisky" a comedy, none of what transpires among these three is presented with the broad strokes or winking nudges you'd get from another movie. This is the setup for a farce or slapstick that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau never got to make.

Instead, Stoll and Rebella, who wrote ''Whisky" with Gonzalo Delgado, bring a droll, humane, and carefully observed style to the material.

After years working together, Jacobo invites Marta, who's similar to him in age and disposition, into his home for what is probably the first time. Their lives converge then diverge every day. Now they're temporarily, artificially conjoined, and the whole arrangement is vividly uncomfortable. Neither has a word to say to the other. Thank goodness for separate beds!

The ebullient Herman insists the three of them go to a chilly seaside resort, where Marta wakes up a little, expressing curiosity about the life he's lived. Jacobo, for his part, descends further into the crabbiness that comes with the recognition of envy and regret: To what, he seems to wonder, has his life amounted? The movie doesn't overdramatize Jacobo's arrangement, although I wish it would've delved deeper into his and Marta's lives so that by the time it's over, the film wouldn't seem as much like a formal exercise. Nonetheless, ''Whisky" is about people who surprise each other in small, significant ways.

The film has a field day with contrasts. The sight of these three sitting deadpan in a karaoke bar is borderline hilarious, like a scene from the work of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki.

Still, there's no mistaking that Jacobo would prefer to live in a fun-free zone.

In a scene that says everything about the gulf between the brothers, Herman asks Jacobo to hand him a refrigerator magnet of a hand in the ''thumbs up" position. When Jacobo grumpily replaces it, the thumb is aimed in the opposite direction. By no means should that be read as a judgment of this affecting little movie.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

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