MENTASTI, PUCHO

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Plenty of top-notch foreign directors of TV commercials yearn to break into the American market to work on big-budget, cutting-edge creative projects and earn the big bucks and fame that go with them. But 35-year-old Argentinean spots director Pucho, as he's known in the trade, has been biding his time before making his move on the Norte Americanos. Instead, he nurtured his own Buenos Aires-based production company, 2001 (formerly La Brea Productions), adorning its offices with international advertising awards, including several Clios and Cannes Lions. But now he's finally decided to make the jump.

"After five years of getting bigger and bigger projects [in Argentina], I'm now at the level where I want to really grow -- and our market is very small," he laments. "I need more possibilities to express my ideas." He is going international in a year when he was picked for Saatchi & Saatchi's Best New Directors Showcase in Cannes. Also in Cannes, he scored a Silver Lion for the charmingly clever Herba soft drink spot, "Couple," shot for Saatchi & Saatchi/Buenos Aires.

David Perry, Saatchi's head of broadcast in New York, who helped pick Pucho for the Showcase after being alerted to the director by the agency's Argentinean office, praises "Couple" as a "wonderful, sweet little story that blends two things that are very hard to do well -- comedy and warmth." The spot opens with a dark-haired young woman striding up to a cafe table and tearfully confronting her new boyfriend with the truth. "Here I am," she says, spilling her guts about her deceptive appearance on their first date -- "the blonde, blue-eyed beauty of your dreams." But now, sans blonde wig, she reveals the extent of her fraud by removing her tinted contact lenses and smearing away her Cindy Crawford beauty mark. Confronted with this astonishing display, her beau is given the courage to reach up and pull off his rug. The couple then stroll off together arm in arm. Natural is what suits you best, is the message of the spot.

Sometimes, 'unnatural' suits as well. In a clever Heineken spot called "Persecution," a woman ditches an aggressive stranger by fleeing into the men's room and bellying up to a urinal as she smiles back at her unwelcome suitor. "The agency wanted to stop at the men's room sign on the door, but I pushed for us to go in and show her inside, which made it much more powerful," Pucho comments.

His reel, including the 1996 Festival de Montreux Gold Medal-winnner "King Kong" for Tulipan hand cream (with its Faye Wray-like model, who shifts from cringing to cuddling in the big ape's moisturized grip) shows tremendous stylistic variety. Perry explains that, like many directors "from the hinterlands," Pucho can't afford to be too specialized. "You'll see a tabletop spot and then a humor spot and then a car spot, so in a short time he has become a real filmmaker."

Pucho, the son of Angel Mentasti, the founder of the well-known Argentinean film production company Sonofilm, began his career in advertising with JWT/Buenos Aires, where he became a senior CD. In 1993, he formed his own production company to direct commercials and music videos, including Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' "Matador," which won a 1994 MTV Award for Best Latin Video. Earlier this year, Pucho brought aboard other directors, as he prepares to attack the American market through his representation by New York Office, the new partnership between Dutch director Paul Meijer and CMA executive producer Cathy Pellow.

Many ideas that play in South America and Europe are impossible on American television. When it is noted that he can't show bare breasts on American TV, as he did in a South American Renault spot called "The Pact," he is unconcerned:

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