Azor: Fear and loathing during Argentina’s dirty war

Review: Knotty conspiracies and obfuscations abound in unsettling drama

Azor: a chilling expedition into the capitalist jungle
Azor
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Director: Andreas Fontana
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Fabrizio Rongione, Stéphanie Cléau, Elli Medeiros, Alexandre Trocki.
Running Time: 1 hr 40 mins

A mystery fashioned in the shape of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Azor follows Yvan de Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione, in a surgically enigmatic performance), a private Swiss banker and chic wife Ines (Stéphanie Cléau) from Geneva to Argentina, where Yvan’s partner has disappeared.

Over the course of various meetings, Yvan seeks to reassure his super-rich clients that their money is safe, while he uncovers contradictory accounts (“depraved”, “very charming”) of his missing partner, Keys, and finally, the name of a shadowy client, who may know something of Keys’s whereabouts.

Watching Andreas Fontana’s wildly impressive first feature, co-written by the director and writer Mariano Llinás, is a little like being Warren Beatty in The Parallax View. The uneasy sensation that some knotted conspiracy is at play is amplified by the film’s many obfuscations and codes: the very title is a watchword among Swiss financiers to “be quiet. Careful what you say”.

The junta's dirty war is glimpsed in the opening scenes, as two young men are interrogated at gunpoint on the streets of Buenos Aires

That double-speak mirrors the evil euphemisms of the Argentinian junta that assumed power in 1976. This political thriller takes place in 1980 as the “National Reorganisation Process” is sending thousands of socialists, dissidents and reformers to their deaths.

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One wealthy character’s beloved daughter is one of “los desaparecidos” or “the disappeared”, another partially clouded circumlocution meaning: murdered by the regime.

The junta’s dirty war is glimpsed in the opening scenes, as two young men are interrogated at gunpoint on the streets of Buenos Aires. But even dirtier deeds are being committed elsewhere, their extent and evil obscured by many polite exchanges and business meetings until a final, disconcerting shot.

The creeping dread that underscores Azor never escalates into anything as untidy as bloodshed. Gabriel Sandru’s camera hovers – nervously, curiously – around the edges of luxurious social gatherings. This is a world of swimming pools and racehorses and fragrant wives, including Stéphanie Cléau’s compelling Ines, whose initially enterprising sleuthing finally gives way to ruthless ambition that would make Lady Macbeth blush: “Your father was right,” she chastises her husband, “fear makes you mediocre.”

As with the concealing language of the dictatorship, death is everywhere, just not on screen. Its absence, like Keys or Harry Lime in The Third Man, is pronounced. One terrifying Monsignor (Pablo Torre Nilson), a man of immense power, precisely echoes Colonel Kurtz’s final belief that the Company should simply “exterminate all the brutes!”. It’s a fitting coda for a chilling expedition into the capitalist jungle.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic