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Imagining Argentina
2003 - R - 108 Mins.
Director: Christopher Hampton
Producer: Geoffrey C. Lands, Michael Peyser, Diane Sillan Isaacs and Santiago Pozo
Written By: Chrisopher Hampton, Lawrence Thornton (novel)
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Ruben Blades, Maria Canals
Review by: Chris Beaumont

I see tortured people.....
Have you ever heard of Imagining Argentina? Me neither, until I saw the new release listing. Believe it or not, it actually was released to theaters in 2004, of course it only lasted 14 days and took in less than $9,000 while playing on a single screen. Surprising considering it stars Antonio Banderas and Emma Thompson, plus it was written and directed by Oscar winner Christopher Hampton. Anyway, let's take a look at the movie, which has a good concept, but the execution is such that I cannot really recommend it.

Imagining Argentina is political thriller set in Argentina during the period of military dictatorship in the late 1970's. During this period a lot of people were "disappeared." That means that if you speak out against the government, in anyway, they come for you, take you, and torture you until you start singing a new tune, but most of the time, once you disappear, you are gone for good. The story is one of loss, hope, despair, and love in the face of these atrocities.

Carlos Rueda (Banderas) is the director of a children's theater and his wife, Cecilia (Thompson) is a journalist, together they have a teenage daughter, have a close knit group of friends. Cecilia writes an article speaking out for the families of the disappeared, characterized as a sad procession of women in white scarves chanting while carrying the images of their loved ones. This article does not go over well, and Cecilia soon finds herself among the "disappeared."

The focus is Carlos as he desperately tries to find his wife. He hands out fliers, knocks on doors, all while trying to keep up on his job and dealing with his worried friends. Now this is where the film goes off the tracks, it introduces a plot device which is unnecessary, distracting, and does not fit with the film as it is developing.

It turns out that Carlos is, wait for it, a psychic. Yes, you read that right, a psychic. Of course he just found out about this ability and isn't quite sure how it works. In television terms, this is where the movie "jumps the shark." Before long he is holding séances, or sorts, in his backyard. There is no period of wonder or confusion or amazement over his new ability it just is. So, he tells people tales of the disappeared while he continues his own investigation.

I fear I may have already said too much, and I do not wish to give it all away for those of you who might want to see it. This "psychic" twist is so far out there and not in fitting with the tone of the film as to be a terrible distraction. This ability becomes the focus and central plot device which thrusts the story along it's course.

I fail to see why this was even needed. The setup was perfect, you have a loving family, an outspoken spouse, a government sponsored disappearance, leading to a man on a desperate search for his loved one. What more do you need? I know, how about relying on the strength of your cast and story to carry the film, no need for this low rent mysticism.

Let's set that aside and take a look at some of the good things. First up are the performances of the leads. Antonio Banderas is very good as the conflicted Carlos, he plays him as a man who is on the verge of losing hope. Carlos is no superman, he is a man who is confused and doing all that he can, all that he knows to do. Emma Thompson gives Cecilia an internal strength, the power to carry on in the face of extreme adversity. The supporting cast is good as well, featuring Ruben Blades and Maria Canals.

Besides the acting, the cinematography is fantastic, giving us a glimpse into the far away land (to me) of Argentina. Different architecture and landscape, something different than we see in domestic films, exotic and natural. Finally, Christopher Hampton has directed the film well with some good performances. If only I could get past the unneeded plot device, there is actually a good film buried in there.

Bottomline. A good looking film with good performances, primarily the two leads. Sadly, the whole psychic business brought the film way down in my eyes and I cannot give it a strong recommendation. I could go as far as mild recommendation to rent. The core of the story is solid, but the fluff takes over.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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