Imagining Argentina

Imagining Argentina

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Stanners

During Argentina's military dictatorship (1976-83), 30,000 individuals vanished. Many were executed behind closed doors; many simply disappeared and were presumed dead. A large percentage of those murdered or tortured were from the educated classes - journalists, students, politicians, human and civil rights activists - people with opinions that, more often than not, differed from official state policy.

This climate of fear forms the backdrop to Christopher Hampton's new film. Antonio Banderas plays Carlos, a youth theatre director from Buenos Aires. One day, his wife Cecilia (Emma Thompson), an outspoken journalist, is kidnapped and tortured by government henchmen. A distraught Carlos finds psychic powers from somewhere within and is able to envisage what has happened to the missing ones. In between directing his show, he arranges meetings at his home, where local families plead with him for answers. However, he remains at pains to locate his own wife and when his colleague Silvio (Ruben Blades ) and daughter Teresa (Leticia Dolera) are also abducted, things take a sharp nosedive.

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Based on Lawrence Thornton's novel, Hampton strives for a part human, part mystical response to a brutal regime, bent on repression. The combination of Cecilia's strength and Carlos's profound imagination keeps their hopes alive. Although the story is contrived and unlikely, it pours an elixir of humanity over terrible times, during which a nation, renowned for its artistic credibility, was subjected to senseless acts of tyranny.

A little more information, regarding the political situation, would have added depth and steered the film down a documentary path. Instead, Hampton opts for an artistic/mystical route, although refuses to follow the Hollywood formula of sacherine soaked conclusions.

The acting is taut. Banderas, heavily bearded, carries the can well as a visionary artist, living on a prayer, and Thompson exudes strength from start to finish. Although, at first glance, a dubious Argentinean, she manages to pull off the accent with aplomb.

The background is fascinating. Dealing with a lacuna of evidence for the loss of 30,000 souls probes every kind of question, most of which Hampton prefers to gloss over. But then it was never his intention to answer them, rather adapt Thornton's story, which he does with style.

And boy, does the tango look sexy down Buenos Aires way! For that alone, the film is worth a visit.

Reviewed on: 29 Apr 2004
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A theatre director whose wife is kidnapped by the government, taps into psychic powers to try to find her.
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Director: Christopher Hampton

Writer: Christopher Hampton, based on the novel by Lawrence Thornton

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Horacio Flash, Ruben Blades, Maria Canals, Leticia Dolera, John Wood, Claire Bloom, Anton Lesser, Kuno Becker

Year: 2003

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina/Spain/UK/US

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