STRREAMING REVIEWS: World cinema, Latin America style

A scene from 'Argentina, 1985'

The two films today are their country’s respective entries for Best International Feature in the Oscars and other award-giving bodies. So here for your watching enjoyment, are the ones from Argentina and Mexico. 

Argentina, 1985 (Amazon Prime) - Handling a boisterous and energized courtroom drama and legal procedural, Director Santiago Mitré may have been too young to recount these events from a first person perspective, but it doesn’t stop him from doing his utmost to bring this story to vivid cinema life. Basically, it recounts the struggles of the prosecutor and his legal team as they amassed the evidence they would use in the trial of nine high-ranking military figures for their involvement in cases of ‘desparecidos’. For those in the dark, this was the period when, from the mid-1970’s to the mid-80’s, citizens would routinely disappear under then Argentinian military rule. It was only in 1984 that civilian courts were given the green light to try these military ‘butchers’.

Ricardo Darin plays Julio Strassera, then chief prosecutor, while Peter Lanzani also impresses as the deputy prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo. Important here, is how the nine on trial refused to recognize the authority of a civilian court, insisting all threat happened should be tried in a military trial, who would have jurisdiction on the matter. The power and influence of the right-wing military could not be underestimated throughout this period, with the lives of the prosecutor’s team constantly in the balance. Obviously, there are Hollywood treatments of the narrative; but by and large, you’ll appreciate how Mitré plays it straight and without sensationalizing. It’s a very important period in Argentina’s democratic history, and it well deserves this gripping film dramatization. 

Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Netflix Mexico) - Having won Best Director at the Academy Awards for both The Birdman and The Revenant, this is the first film of Mexican Alejandro Iñárritu since that period of double wins. Critics have written about this new film as Iñárritu’s own version of Fellini’s 81/2, and I can see where that comes from, as it’s auto-biographical, surreal, and a case of very personal film-making. So personal, that one may criticize the film as too indulgent, myopic, and self-absorbed. And they would be right, as it won’t be easy to defend the film from those accusations. But in a world where so much cinema is predictable, formulaic, and boringly safe, it’s good to be leveling these charges at Bardo.

A scene from 'Bardo'

The more important issue is as to whether the film is actually watchable. On this count the critics seem divided down the middle. One group will call the film truly wonderful and provocative, while the other group will condemn the film as a difficult chore to watch, the worse example of navel-gazing. The main character, Silverio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is a filmmaker, and the film is all about that area between fact and fiction, that area between the real world and the ethereal - the literal definition of the Buddhist word ‘bardo’. With surrealism and magical realism as integral elements of the story-telling, one can imagine just how far Iñárritu will take things. Definitely thought-provoking and straying far from the mainstream - but also definitely not everyone’s cup of tea.