Engaging without being compelling, “Lost Embrace,” an ensemble comedy-drama about a close-knit, ethnically diverse (though largely Jewish) collection of store owners in a Buenos Aires mall, meanders about as much as a shopper with an afternoon to kill but remains good-natured enough to warrant a visit. Daniel Burman’s picture is told from the perspective of Ariel (Daniel Hendler), a nice-looking but chronically unhappy young fellow who clerks at his mother Sonia’s (Adriana Aizenberg) lingerie shop, while brother Joseph (Sergio Boris) runs a junk-importing business in a warehouse upstairs. Ariel’s moodiness stems from the fact that the family was abandoned many years earlier by his father Elias (Jorge D’Elia), who went off to serve in the Israeli army and remained in the Middle East; now Ariel and his buddy Mitelman (Diego Koroi), a well-named “fixer,” are working to secure European passports to be able to emigrate–an effort that forces him to ask for supporting documents from the Polish-born grandmother (Rosita Londner) he’s long neglected. Meanwhile Ariel enjoys an occasional stockroom fling with Rita (Silvina Bosco), the partner in an internet shop with an older man who could be either her father or her husband. And around all these characters circulate a catalogue of others: some Italians who operate both a repair shop and a hairdressing emporium, a Korean couple with a feng shui store, a stationery shop owner whose shrinking customer base worries Sonia unduly, and a local laborer who performs odd-jobs for Joseph (and is the mall’s designated champion in a foot race designed to settle a dispute with a businessman from outside).
Much of the running-time is devoted to bits of business involving this colorful crew, with occasional detours into more serious or sentimental regions, but the focus is mostly on Ariel’s introspective flights, especially when Elias returns and tries to reconnect with him. The self-absorption of the central character could be a turn-off, but happily the writing is sufficiently bright and Hendler likable enough to keep the character from becoming an irritating whiner. The supporting cast are also an important plus. Some of them tend to come on a mite strong (Aizenberg, for instance, whose Jewish mother shtick can be a trifle wearying), but most keep within proper bounds and create figures that are nicely on target.
Technically “Lost Embrace” isn’t special. The mall setting is fairly blah, and Ramiro Civita’s camerawork doesn’t provide much of a color palette and is sometimes too jittery, though the score by Cesar Lerner sets the right mood. The result is a small film whose structural weaknesses are largely redeemed by its big heart.