Built around the children of Argentina's "desaparecidos" -- political victims who disappeared during the 1970s military dictatorship -- "The Lost Steps" delivers a challenging political message in an easy-to-swallow manner. Helmer Manane Rodriguez's sophomore pic focuses strongly on human interest rather than the politics.

Built around the children of Argentina’s “desaparecidos” — political victims who disappeared during the 1970s military dictatorship — “The Lost Steps” delivers a challenging political message in an easy-to-swallow manner. Uruguayan director Manane Rodriguez’s sophomore feature — following “Portrait of Woman With Man in Background” (1997) — has powerful moments, but by focusing too strongly on the human interest rather than the politics, it ends up looking like a skeleton-in-the-closet family drama. Appearances in politically themed fests could be an option.

Nursery worker Monica (Irene Visedo) lives in Spain with her well-off, over-protective Argentinean father, Ernesto (Luis Brandoni), and Spanish mother, Ines (Spanish vet Concha Velasco). Years before, the family was pestered by Bruno Liardi (Federico Luppi), an Argentinean writer who believed that Monica was his granddaughter and that she was taken away after his daughter and son-in-law disappeared. A lawyer (Pedro M. Martinez) turns up at Ernesto’s office to say Bruno is back in Spain demanding blood samples from Monica and intends to take the case to court.

Pic’s pacing is awkward: Bruno finally appears an hour into the movie; the question of Monica’s true parentage is settled in the viewer’s mind far too early; and the issue of why Monica, at 22, has not shown more interest in her father’s shady history is not properly dealt with. Still, the script is good in the little telltale ways it shows Monica’s relationship to the family.

Final minutes include sequences of Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo — who are still fighting for the truth about the “desaparecidos” — and open up the complex moral question of whether justice is necessary at any price. However, these scenes also suggest how much more powerful the pic could have been. Unfortunate comparisons with Costa-Gavras’ “The Music Box” are felt at every turn.

Perfs are OK, though the as-yet-untested Visedo has to carry the emotional weight through virtually every scene and sometimes looks wobbly. The moments when she faces off with the consummately professional Luppi are one-sided.

The Lost Steps

Spain-Argentina

Production

A UIP (Spain) release (in Spain) of an Atlanta Films, Anola Films (Spain)/Alfa Vision (Argentina) production, in association with TVE and Via Digital. (International sales: Atlanta Films, Madrid.) Directed by Manane Rodriguez. Screenplay, Rodriguez, Xavier Bermudez.

Crew

Camera (color), Juan Carlos Gomez; editor, Esperanza Cobos; music, Fernando Egozque, Fuster and Mendo; art director, Gabriel Carrascal; sound (Dolby), Wildtrack. Reviewed at Cine Renoir, Madrid, Nov. 10, 2001. (In Valladolid Film Festival.) Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Irene Visedo, Luis Brandoni, Concha Velasco, Federico Luppi, Juan Querol, Jesus Blanco, Pedro M. Martinez.
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