After a six-year absence, Fernando E. Solanas (“The Hour of the Furnaces,” “South”) returns with an ambitious, visually impressive pic about an ailing theater company and a bunch of underemployed actors. Evidently meant to be seen as a microcosm for contemporary Argentina, the film seems aimed at a domestic audience. Though it’s certain to get arthouse distribution in many parts of Europe, Stateside release is likely to elude this one.
The films of Solanas have always contained a strong political content, but this time around his message may puzzle even his admirers. Buenos Aires is, literally, under a cloud — a great black cloud that has descended on the city and has brought endless, heavy rain for over 1,600 days. Needless to say, the citizens are dispirited and hopeless before the elements.
For unexplained reasons, traffic on the streets is moving backward; so, at times, are pedestrians. This is an intriguing device at first, but, as the film proceeds, it becomes annoying, especially because the gimmick is inconsistently used.
Principal among the 10 major and 30 minor characters in the over-busy screenplay is Max, director of the Mirror Theater, which is housed in what appears to be a former fish market. Max, an aging ham who does impersonations of Laurence Olivier and flirts with the young women in his troupe, is, nevertheless , representative of a noble theatrical condition. When hard times and lack of government support threaten the survival of the theater, which is facing demolition, Max is forced to take a stand.
A subplot involves the elderly Enrique, a friend and colleague of Max, who is leading a fight against the government regarding unpaid old-age pensions. Though the pensioners win their case, a government official explains patiently that, since no money is available, they still can’t be paid.
Meanwhile, Max lusts after the statuesque Fulo, a Brazilian dancer worried about her daughter back home in Rio. Max’s long-estranged daughter, Paula, drops in for an uneasy visit.
Pic is rather cluttered with characters who add little to the central drama, and the narrative proceeds in fits and starts. There are allusions to ongoing official corruption, police brutality (an innocent student is gunned down on the street) and other ills. Solanas has divided the film into four chapters (“The Mirror,” “The Waiting Men,” “Oblivion,” “Howls”) and dozens of subchapters, with titles including “Punishments,” “Rewards,” “Obstinacy.”
Of the large ensemble cast, Eduardo Pavlovsky impresses as the ebullient, very theatrical Max, while Angela Correa vividly inhabits the character of Fulo.
Though “The Cloud” is, at times, maddeningly obscure, it is certainly a handsome production. With the entire city enveloped in darkness, the dominant colors are black and gray, which makes for a strikingly bold palette.
Point of the film seems to be that the people of Argentina are still paying for a history over which they had little or no control. The burdens of the past, like the cloud, hang heavily over them. It’s a fairly obvious message, and pic doesn’t succeed in turning it into a meaningful experience for an international audience.