"Secuestro y muerte"
An Ivan Eibuszyc/Ivan Fund/Santiago Loza presentation of a Morocha Films production. Executive producer, Ivan Eibuszyc. Directed, written by Santiago Loza, Ivan Fund.
With: Eva Bianco, Victoria Raposo, Adela Sanchez, Raul Lagger, Walter Aguirre.
Three women bring their medical skill, bedside manner and considerable patience to the task of treating desperately poor families in a distant Argentine outpost in Santiago Loza and Ivan Fund's lovingly rendered "The Lips." The film's considerable strength lies in its perceptive focus on these modern-day Mary Magdalenes in private moments as well as their heartfelt interactions with needy locals, actual residents playing themselves opposite the trio of actresses. Triumphant screenings at the Buenos Aires fest and Un Certain Regard selection should provide a strong international launch for a likely popular fest title.
Just as it's impossible to determine who does what between co-directors Loza and Fund, there's no clear division of labor between earth-motherish Coca (Adela Sanchez), more cerebral Noe (Eva Bianco) and slightly emotionally disturbed Luchi (Victoria Raposo). Viewed without comment as they meet for an overnight bus trip to tiny San Cristobal in Argentina's Santa Fe province, the three settle in easily with each other, resigned to the fact their assignment isn't going to be easy.
At first, their local "angel," Raul (Raul Lagger), appears to be a country bumpkin, and when he tries to make the women's lodging sound homey, the images onscreen make him seem like a B.S. artist. (Raul turns out to be a nice guy after all.) The doubtless cash-strapped hosts have put the women up in a horribly derelict former hospital.
As with so much else, Coca, Noe and Luchi stoically put up with it, stepping up their game to attend to the needs of a range of local patients. Loza and Fund apply the same concern for these people, allowing long passages of "The Lips" to become a mix of fiction and nonfiction, as actors playing the doctors listen to the real local families discussing their personal and health problems, exposing a shocking level of poverty that seems to have an especially strong impact on the sensitive Luchi.
Restless during sleep hours and concerned for her safety, Luchi sometimes wanders the shelter's dark hallways at night. In a subtly musical way, "The Lips" continually shifts tone, from these more troubling sections to the semi-docu interviews with patients to easygoing scenes of the gals getting away for some welcome downtime. (The feeling of a day off from work has rarely felt more real onscreen.)
Far better than Fund's last film, "La risa," "The Lips" successfully conveys the sense of actors giving themselves over to specific moods and settings, and the women's social conscience and solidarity are refreshingly underplayed.
The rumbling skies, ever-changing light and unsettled atmosphere are precisely captured by cinematographer Maria Laura Collasso, and editor Lorena Moriconi assembles disparate parts into a rhythmic flow that never seems overly manipulated. Locations in the Santa Fe province place the viewer in an Argentina that's rarely seen onscreen.
Camera (color, HD), Maria Laura Collasso; editor, Lorena Moriconi; music, Fund, Lisandro Rodriguez; production designer, Adrian Suarez; costume designer, Suarez; sound (stereo), Leandro De Loredo, Alejandro Sesa; supervising sound editors, Jeronimo Kohn, Alejandro Seba. Reviewed on DVD, Lisbon, April 28, 2010. (In Buenos Aires Film Festival; Cannes Film Festival -- Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 99 MIN.
Secuestro y muerte (Abduction and Death), de Rafael Filipelli
A Primer Plano Group release of a Saula Benavente and Rafael Filippelli presentation. Executive producer, Saula Benavente. Directed by Rafael Filippelli. Screenplay, Mariano Llinas, David Oubina, Beatriz Sarlo, based on an idea by Sarlo.
With: Enrique Pineyro, Alberto Ajaka, Esteban Bigliardi, Agustina Munoz, Matias Umpierrez, Javier Fainzang.
A specific Argentine political event -- the 1970 kidnapping and execution of Gen. Eugenio Aramburu by leftist revolutionaries -- is reframed as a universal drama in director Rafael Filippelli's engrossing "Abduction and Death." Certain to be received differently depending on the audience -- with locals split over the film's balanced treatment of all the characters, and outsiders more prone to read it as a classic moral drama -- Filippelli's latest is characteristically disciplined, clean storytelling with a modernist bent. Fest biz will be brisk, though buyers are likely to wait and see.
Like the director's lovely "Musica nocturna," the new film stars the very watchable Enrique Pineyro; here, he plays a character known only as "the General," aged with subtly applied facial makeup that tends to accentuate the despair that has visibly weighed down this strongman. His portrayal unexpectedly humanizes the sort of figure long despised in (left-wing) Argentine filmmaking, a decision that makes "Abduction and Death" instantly controversial on its home turf and among leftward auds most likely to watch it.
It's a brave choice, and aligns the film more in the tradition more of Renoir's "Grand Illusion," with its humane portrayals of once-demonized German military men, rather than the more programmatic political dramas of, say, Costa-Gavras. Just as striking is Filippelli's consistent taste, a la "Musica nocturna," for dramatically underplaying events in the screenplay co-written by "Extraordinary Stories" director Mariano Llinas, film critic David Oubina and social analyst Beatriz Sarlo, who hatched pic's narrative idea.
Action plays along procedural lines, following underground cell members Maximo (Esteban Bigliardi), Pancho (Matias Umpierrez), Monica (Agustina Munoz, who also provides often unnecessary v.o. narration) and Raul (Alberto Ajaka) as they don costumes to enter military HQ and take the General in a rapid, bloodless abduction.
The kidnappers take their prisoner to a remote farmhouse run by Angel (Javier Fainzang), who knows Monica but nothing of the plot; there, the film surprisingly takes as much interest in the quotidian business of the unit setting up shop as it does in their inevitable confrontations with the General. While Maximo and Pancho are deadly serious revolutionaries who lead the interrogation, Monica is more thoughtful and nuanced, and Raul is as prone to make small talk as he is to discuss the matters at hand.
The General is mystified at Maximo's and Pancho's kangaroo court, but "Abduction and Death" is most attuned to how each side justifies its indefensible actions. The accusers, closely based on members of the Montaneros -- the most vigorous group opposed to the military junta -- consider theirs to be a "people's trial," reminding the General that they're far kinder to him than he was to his enemies.
The General, on the other hand, views himself as "revolutionary," and justifies the mass executions on his watch as necessary to prevent even greater chaos. The dialogues, which comprise most of the film's central and latter sections, are freed of any theatrical taint by dint of Filippelli's camera (wielded by talented cinematographer Fernando Locket), which stalks the room and accentuates the claustrophobia.
Bigliardi's and Umpierrez's performances play up a sternness mirrored in Pineyro's rock-hard demeanor, which slowly gives way to a vulnerable surrender to his fate. Ajaka and Munoz provide amusing counterpoint, sometimes acting like the kids in the adults' serious matters.
Editing by "Castro" director Alejo Moguillansky (a frequent collaborator with Llinas, with both of them former students of cinema prof Filippelli) is crucial to the film's steady flow over 72 hours of action.
Camera (color), Fernando Locket; editor, Alejo Moguillansky; production designer, Cecilia Figueredo; sound (stereo), Jesica Suarez; supervising sound editors, Marcelo Galluzzo, Juan Catano; re-recording mixer, Galluzzo. Reviewed on DVD, Lisbon, April 27, 2010. (In Bueno Aires Film Festival -- opener.) Running time: 95 MIN.