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Straight from the Bernard Matthews school of film-making
Imagining Argentina (DVD)
Member Name: ms_memory
Imagining Argentina (DVD)
Date: 24/03/10, updated on 24/03/10 (43 review reads)
Advantages: Some nice shots of the Pampas
Disadvantages: Bad acting, ridiculous and holey plot
** Synopsis **
Imagining Argentina was made in 2003 and directed by Christopher Hampton. Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson play a married couple, Carlos and Cecilia, living in Buenos Aires in the mid-1970s. The country is in the grip of a military dictatorship and its citizens are going through turmoil. Every day, people keep being "disappeared": they vanish without trace, often after having committed some very minor act of political dissidence, such as protesting at the price of bus tickets. Cecilia, a journalist, keeps reporting these disappearances despite having received death threats. Carlos isn't too keen on her doing this, but she is headstrong and he cannot stop her.
One night Carlos comes home from the children's theatre where he works to find that Cecilia has been "disappeared" herself. He and his teenage daughter are desperate to find her, but don't know where to look. Then a curious thing happens - Carlos starts having visions of where Cecilia is being held. He believes he has a gift and puts it to use straight away, holding meetings in his back yard for the relatives of missing persons. Carlos finds he is able to see in his mind's eye the fate of people's loved ones who have been "disappeared", but for some reason he can't get a clear picture of Cecilia. He ends up following clues that come to him in dreams, combing the city and its surroundings for the place where Cecilia is being held. But at the same time the government has got wind of his clairvoyance and the meetings he is holding, and its henchmen start abducting Carlos' remaining loved ones. Will Carlos be able to find Cecilia before his life is completely destroyed?
** My opinion **
A film that started very promisingly for me, with original 1970's footage of Argentinian citizens protesting against their harsh leaders, quickly became a huge disappointment. It was so bad I hardly know where to start.
First of all, I knew the film was going to be in English rather than Spanish, and assumed that Banderas and Thompson would be playing an Argentinian-British couple or something similar. As it turned out, all of the characters play Argentinians, but the whole film is in English. This was very confusing as most of them had such thick accents that I couldn't always understand their English, and Emma Thompson's accent is ridiculous; a stock "foreign" accent with plummy vowels that keep poking through.
The next problem was the wooden acting combined with a highly melodramatic plot: I felt as though I was watching a cheap 1980s US soap opera, complete with cliched love scenes. Banderas and Thompson try their best, but their monotonous-voiced daughter appears to have researched the role by watching Pinocchio (though she does improve a little later on as a sobbing torture victim - maybe the director had given her a good telling-off by then). Meanwhile Carlos' colleague Silvio (cast as the shouty one, to contrast with the non-shouty colleague) was so dire an actor I wondered whether he was a member of the crew dragged in front of the camera to make up the numbers. Some of the bit-part actors are even worse. Were these people only chosen for the film because they could speak English? Also, judging by their pronunciation, many of them appear to be Spaniards rather than Argentinians (indeed, part of the film was made in Spain). I suppose the director thought an English-speaking audience wouldn't notice or care. Well I did!
The plot is absolutely ridiculous, with Banderas' character experiencing random dreams and visions containing symbols which are never really explained. There are some ham-fisted attempts at mysticism (such as a couple of former Auschwitz prisoners who tell Carlos that his stories are "keeping Cecilia alive" and an owl that people keep laughing at) and some large plot holes - why does the government go to the trouble of sending a spy to Carlos' meetings but not stop the meetings? If they are so worried and as intent on stopping Carlos as we are led to believe, why not just kidnap him instead of his colleagues and family members? And how realistic is it that Carlos could just walk into the government HQ off the street and speak to the leader?
What also frustrated me when watching this film is that we learn very little about the situation in Argentina at the time. We see original footage of the "madres" - the mothers of the "disappeared" protesting in their signatory white headscarves in front of the "Casa Rosada", the government HQ in Buenos Aires. But what provoked the disappearances in the first place? When did they start? What were foreign governments doing? How did the Argentinian military government explain the disappearances to the general population? Were government employees forced to participate in the torture of their fellow citizens against their will? How? (In the prison scenes, where we see Cecilia and her fellow inmates being tortured, the captors are all one-dimensional "baddies" who either seem to be having a whale of a time or are able to see it as "jut another job"). I would have liked the film to deal more with these issues and less with Carlos laughing at owls, running clothed into the sea or dreaming of shadows and shoes with plants growing out of them. Unfortunately, the original newsreels only serve to highlight the inauthenticity of the rest of the film.
As for the ending, I'm not going to give it away, but even if I did reveal what happens it wouldn't make much difference, as it's unclear whether it is supposed to be true or another of Carlos' dreams or visions. It seems to me like a handy way out of a silly and convoluted plot.
This is a film that tackles a very important and interesting topic but probably should have been made by an Argentinian director, with Argentinian actors, in Spanish, and with a better script and in order to do the topic - and the real-life victims - justice. Maybe that film already exists and it's just a matter of finding it.
If you're a glutton for punishment you can buy the DVD for £3.85 on amazon.co.uk
Run-time 103 wasted minutes
Summary: A complete and utter turkey