A correction was made to this review on July 18, 2005.
Sporadically intriguing but inconclusive, “Orlando Vargas,” the first feature by Uruguayan helmer Juan Pittaluga, cries out for a firmer storyline and a less ambiguous ending. Film, about the mysterious dealings and eventual disappearance of a Uruguay businessman, leaves more unsaid than explained. Film offers rigorously framed imagery, elegant aesthetics and stylized characters, but those will only draw a slim percentage of the arthouse crowd.
Pic’s first half-hour is set in a generic European country (clue: everyone speaks French) where Orlando Vargas (Aurelien Recoing) moves through a wealthy, high-powered business (or possibly political) world full of menacing smoothies. The mood is threatening, but the specifics are anybody’s guess, since the characters are practically mute.
He and his lovely wife Alice (Elina Lowensohn) abruptly leave for Uruguay with their 10-year-old son Thomas (Rodrigo Dambrauskas), who is as taciturn as they are. After they are ensconced in an isolated beach house in an off-season resort town, Orlando takes a stroll over to the local bar and is never heard from again.
Alice takes center stage, but to little purpose. Locked in an uncommunicative sadness, as though she knew or guessed what happened to him, she certainly has one up on the audience. If the story has political undertones, they are not sufficiently cued in.
Pittalunga, who worked as an assistant on his co-producer Jonathan Nossiter’s “Mondovino,” does have a well-developed sense of atmosphere. Recoing (“Time Out”) has a wistfully helpless look that inspires tenderness, even though aud is given no idea what he’s up to.
Lowensohn, last seen in Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement,” likewise struggles with a fairly undefined role, managing to bring a sense of depth and reality to the wife. Both are called on to create their characters practically without the benefit of dialogue.
Attractive lensing by cinematographer Crystel Fournier takes full advantage of the wild Uruguayan seascape and interfaces with Raquel Armas’s essential set design for a slightly stylized look, appropriate to this wide open puzzle.