Steeped in the tradition of magic realism, "The Impostor" is a relentlessly enigmatic and enthralling saga that is certain to attract serious scrutiny internationally. The tale of mystery and passion establishes tyro feature director Alejandro Maci as an emerging talent.

Steeped in the tradition of magic realism, “The Impostor” is a relentlessly enigmatic and enthralling saga that is certain to attract serious scrutiny internationally. The tale of mystery and passion establishes tyro feature director Alejandro Maci as an emerging talent. Commercially, the film has genuine promise as an upscale entry with a few crossover prospects in Spanish and Latin-friendly territories.

Set in the 1930s, tale centers on Sebastian (Antonio Birabent), the scion of a wealthy Argentine family who’s fled his Buenos Aires home for the shelter of their rugged estate in the pampas. Concerned for his physical and mental health, his family coerces the young man’s boyhood friend Juan (Walter Quiroz) to keep an eye on Sebastian. He reluctantly agrees, feigning some arcane research project on birds and vegetation as the reason for his visit.

Juan enters an environment he’s ill prepared to navigate. Sebastian’s mood swings wildly between gregarious and impenetrable. His downturns stem from an impossible relationship with the daughter of Danish immigrants who belong to a religious sect. Juan, too, becomes infatuated with the young woman. The plot grows increasingly complex as the bond between the two men is jeopardized not only by Juan’s sexual obsession but by Sebastian’s growing suspicion that his friend is a spy.

Based on a novel and on an unfinished script by the late Maria Luis Bemberg, “The Impostor” skillfully draws the audience into Sebastian’s madness. As he slowly becomes immersed in despondency, he’s erratic and apt to explode into a violent rage at any moment. It’s an entirely plausible descent on one level and, on another, a magical tour that provides a chilling about-turn. Revelation at pic’s end is a real shocker.

The film lovingly re-creates a bygone era with shimmering, disquieting images from d.p. Ricardo Aronovich and stunning sets by Emilio Basaldua. Setting is a lush, dreamlike environment where the impossible is likely to occur.

Grounded by strong, charismatic performances from Birabent and Quiroz and adroit work from a large supporting cast — especially Bilan Blanco as a young woman who is a curious, wide-eyed observer — the film is deceptive and tantalizing. Maci constructs a house of cards and takes it to unexpected and rewarding heights.

The Impostor

Argentine

Production

A Mojame S.A./Oscar Kramer presentation. Produced by Kramer. Directed by Alejandro Maci. Screenplay, Maria Luis Bemberg, Jorge Goldenberg, Maci, based on the novel by Silvina Ocampo.

Crew

Camera (color), Ricardo Aronovich; editor, Juan Carlos Macias; music, Nicola Piovani; art direction, Emilio Basaldua; costume design, Rosa Zemborain; sound (Dolby), Jose Luis Diaz; associate producer, Christian Keller Sarmiento; assistant director, Eduardo Ripari. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Discovery), Sept. 10, 1997. (Also in AFI/L.A. Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Sebastian Heredia - Antonio Birabent Juan Medina - Walter Quiroz Teresita - Bilan Blanco Dr. Medina - Norman Briski Clotilde - Monica Galan Mr. Heredia - Eduardo Pavlowsky Mrs. Heredia - Marilu Marini Serafina - Beatriz Matar Commisario - Carlos Roffe Eladio - Eresmo Olivera
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