Jealousy leads a young architecture student into dangerous waters in “The Bottom of the Sea,” a well-made psychological thriller from Argentine newcomer Damian Szifron. More than its Buenos Aires setting, which remains in the background, pic is distinguished by a strong pace and pumped-up tension, as the youth’s worst fears come true. An attractive cast and a touch of humor should give it a leg up on international and particularly Spanish lingo markets.
Bizarre opening sequence of divers preparing to enter the sea, complete with a brief history of deep-sea diving, seems purely decorative but is woven into the plot later. It introduces the good-looking but obsessive Ezequiel (Daniel Hendler), whose demanding personality has created friction with his neurotic girlfriend Ana (Dolores Fonzi.) Popping by her apartment unannounced, he is shocked to see a man’s hand reaching out from under the bed to grab a stray shoe. Instead of making a scene, however, Ezequiel quietly leaves and stakes out the building.
In a crescendo of crazed detective work, he watches a middle-aged man (Gustavo Garzon) emerge from the lobby and make a phone call, which prompts Ezequiel to start stalking him. Finally he sets the stranger’s car on fire and puts it out himself, then does further damage to it. Eventually, the man realizes the perpetrator is Ana’s boyfriend.
In an atmosphere of increasing menace, climax takes place at a big hotel party. Unfortunately, pic deflates as Ana gives a complete (if clever) explanation for everything Ezequiel has seen and largely misinterpreted. Two more endings later, film concludes on with a wink at its hero as he prepares to go diving into the sea, an all-encompassing metaphor for his own watery and unexplored psyche.
Looking and acting a little bit like an Argentine Nanni Moretti, Hendler brings a maddening self-absorption to the leading role, but is saved in extremis by a sense of irony. As he explains to a young girl he meets, “I’m 26, but immature for my age.” Garzon turns in the strongest perf as the unpleasant Anibal, whose relationship to Ana is more intimate than even Ezequiel suspects.
A well-honed thriller score by Guillermo Guareschi and Nicolas Goldbart’s professional cutting create an atmosphere of exaggerated tension, even when nothing appears to be going on. Pace is just a little drawn out in places. Lucio Bonelli’s lensing is clean and to the point.