Culture

Politics, Satan in the Chilean Andes

Ricardo Darin in a scene from Santiago Mitre's La Cordillera. Photo courtesy of the Cannes Film Festival

BEIRUT: What do power politics, a hostile horned fox, a $5 billion slush fund and riderless horses have in common? The answer is “La Cordillera” (“The Summit”), the 2017 feature of award-winning Argentine writer-director Santiago Mitre.This ambitious work tells the story of a regional political summit, interwoven with tales of dodgy domestic politics, a father and his troubled daughter, fanciful dreams and false memories so accurate you’ll suspect something supernatural’s at work. It will also be projected at Metropolis-Sofil Wednesday evening, in the presence of Mitre and cast members.

In a fictitious version of the present, recently elected Argentine president Hernan Blanco (Ricardo Darin) is preparing for an important two-day summit of Latin American leaders, queuing up behind a Brazilian initiative to form an OPEC-style South American oil cartel.

Argentina has formed a strategic alliance with Brazil so Blanco and his inner circle are preparing to ingratiate themselves to the Brazilian president, Oliveira Prete, as deeply as anatomy will allow.

Just then a domestic crisis threatens to upset these well-oiled exertions. The estranged husband of Blanco’s emotionally fragile daughter Marina (Dolores Fonzi) has acquired evidence of extensive long-term corruption in Blanco’s party.

Blanco’s advisers decide the summit must come first, that the crisis will simply not be allowed to surface in these two days.

Wanting intel on what her ex is up to, Blanco ignores his advisers and has Marina deposited at the Chilean resort that’s hosting the summit.

Marina’s presence proves highly disruptive, so Blanco’s team calls in a discreet Chilean psychiatrist to examine her.

A cheesy hypnosis sequence ensues and Marina recalls a childhood trauma involving a gift horse that escaped its stable and galloped to the home of one of her father’s former colleagues – who subsequently disappeared after his house was burned down.

The plot thickens when Blanco informs the shrink that – while these incidents did happen – there’s no way Marina could remember any of them because she hadn’t yet been born.

Meanwhile the summit love-in has been disrupted by the lickspittle Mexican president, who wants the U.S. to join the new oil cartel – and who tries to seduce Blanco to be onside when he proposes it.

Elsewhere, Claudia Klein (Elena Anaya), a journalist with a book commission, is interviewing the summit leaders. Klein’s depicted as a fearsome creature that politicians approach at their peril, but in action she resembles a red carpet TV hack aspiring to political philosophy.

It’s to her that Blanco confides his story of a youthful dream encounter with a horned fox – which, in the opinion of his grandfather, was actually Satan. Klein looks troubled.

Most audiences outside Argentina became aware of Santiago Mitre for “Paulina,” his third feature, which premiered at Cannes’ 2015 Critics Week, where it took the Grand Prize.

“Paulina” accomplishes a lot with acting, location and a camera. A great-looking, at times hard-to-watch, little film, it tells the story of a successful lawyer from the leftist aristocracy who defies her father to move to a godforsaken woodland village to teach civics to destitute youngsters, and there finds personal trauma.

The new film reaches further than “Paulina” and falls short.

“La Cordillera” is an unremittingly beautiful film to watch.

Between the Chilean Andes, the switchback-ridden roads that navigate them and the luxurious artificiality of the summit venue, director of photography Javier Julia (who shot Damian Szifron’s maniacal 2014 feature “Wild Tales”) has plenty to keep landscape photography lovers engaged.

Mitre is fortunate to have Julia onboard because the movie, which comes in at just under two hours, does seem to go on. Though there is something delicious in the knowing cynicism with which Mitre depicts it, the film’s framing narrative is not that engaging.

Marina’s emotional collapse and treatment – evoking multiple shots of riderless horses, while leaving viewers to speculate what they signify in post-Bolivar Latin America – suggest metaphorical, even quasi-mystical, readings to her father’s well-laundered political past (and present domestic crisis). Marina’s role is the most intriguing part of the plot. It’s also the most underdeveloped.

The abruptness of the film’s conclusion might inspire cackles of laughter in some – a shame, given the immense reserves of talent and insight invested in all that comes before.

“La Cordillera” will open the Beirut International Film Festival’s 17th edition. Festival director Colette Naufal has stocked the event’s crowd-pleasing Panorama section with several watchable features.

Some critically lauded, festival-feted titles to look for include Raoul Peck’s 2016 feature-length doc “I Am Not Your Negro”; Naomi Kawase’s 2017 feature “Radiance”; “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ eccentric follow-up to his 2015 dystopic feature “Lobster”; “The Other Side of Hope,” Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki’s wry take on Europe’s refugee crisis; and Gurinder Chadra’s 2017 Raj drama “Viceroy’s House.”

The festival will close with Kobiela and Welchman’s “Loving Vincent,” the Van Gogh biopic touted as the first-ever entirely painted motion picture. BIFF also promises that award-winning French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius will appear to present his 2017 Jean Luc Godard biopic “Redoubtable.”

BIFF will screen several feature-length and short films from the Middle East. The Panorama section includes three regional docs. In “Investigating Paradise,” Algerian auteur Merzak Allouache follows a pair of traveling journalists as they inquire about perceptions of jihad and paradise. Kamla Abouzekri’s feature-length doc “A Day for Women,” 2016, and Diana Moukalled’s midlength 2016 doc “A History of Lebanese Cinema,” will also be projected.

Rounding out the program are BIFF’s Middle East documentary film competition, the short film competition, and “The Rejection Front,” a section full of politically engaged titles, like Fisher Stevens’ 2016 climate change doc “Before the Flood.”

Cinema lovers may be happy to learn that this year’s program includes a tribute to Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, who passed away last year. The section includes eight well-known shorts and feature-length works, like “The Wind Will Carry Us,” “A Taste of Cherry” and “The Traveler.” Fans will want to see “24 Frames,” 2017, Kiarostami’s final film credit, a suite of 24 shorts inspired by still images.

BIFF runs through Oct. 12. For information about scheduling, cancellations and the like, see http://www.beirutfilmfestival.org.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 04, 2017, on page 16.

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