Classic American film noir is given an Argentine twist in “Sotto Voce,” with director Mario Levin paying homage to the atmospheric, hard-boiled Hollywood detective of the 1940s. “Sotto Voce” features as many tough-guy investigators, enigmatic thugs and mysterious temptresses as any Philip Marlowe tale, and, like “The Big Sleep,” this film sports a plot that is almost ridiculously convoluted. International prospects look dim, but effort marks Levin as a filmmaker to watch, given a more coherent script.
Noir mood is set from the start, a sequence from an old, black-and-white picture showing two thugs beating a guy to death. Salerno, an old man sitting in the theater watching the film, expires from a heart attack while observing the onscreen murder. Salerno’s daughter Telma (Norma Pons) hires a strange forensic psychiatrist, Deganis (Patricio Contreras), to look into her father’s death because she is convinced that his demise was spurred by the sight of Smith (Martin Adjemian), who played one of the thugs in the film. Telma also thinks she is being blackmailed by Smith.
Deganis snoops out Walensky (Lito Cruz), who played the other bad guy and is an old friend and former partner of Smith’s. Both are former weight-lifters and part-time bit players in films. Deganis wants to pay Walensky to try to locate his old pal, a job Walensky takes on in large part because he wants to clear up some mysteries surrounding Smith.
From there, plot becomes increasingly muddled, with numerous flashbacks to the old days when Walensky and Smith were involved in various semi-legal activities. Back then, Walensky was having an affair with Carmen (Silvina Mananes), the wife of a ruthless mobster, and she plays a crucial part in the intricate explanation of Smith’s shadowy role in Salerno’s life.
Lead actor Cruz brings a certain brooding, if inarticulate, intensity to the portrayal of Walensky, but Contreras seems particularly ill at ease as the bizarre psychiatrist.
Lenser Jose Luis Garcia places an emphasis on shadowy, nocturnal lighting in typical noir fashion, and the sets — including an abandoned gymnasium on the banks of a polluted river and an all-female casino — add greatly to the cryptic ambiance.