A solid drama, mixing historical tragedy with intergenerational conflict.

A German woman’s unplanned stopover in Argentina leads to her uncovering a past she never knew she had in “The Day I Was Not Born.” Florian Cossen’s first feature is a solid drama, mixing historical tragedy with intergenerational conflict. It shared the top audience award with Spain’s “Paper Birds” and also nabbed Fipresci and Ecumenical prizes at Montreal, though further kudos may be needed to attract distrib interest outside Central Europe.

A competitive swimmer, 30-year-old Maria (Jessica Schwarz) is en route to Chile when something overheard at the Buenos Aires airport unsettles her so much — striking a deep chord even though she barely understands a word of Spanish — that she misses her connecting flight. Informing elderly father Anton (Michael Gwisdek) that she’s decided to stay and explore the city for a few days, she is surprised when he shows up unannounced at her hotel 24 hours later.

Anxious and evasive, he eventually confesses what he and his late wife kept hidden all these years: Maria was born here, adopted and taken to Europe when her real parents joined the ranks of the “disappeared” — kidnapped, tortured and presumably executed by the country’s then-military dictatorship.

Driven to find surviving relatives, she soon locates an aunt, uncle and grandmother ecstatic to see her; they had no idea she was still alive, let alone living abroad. Joy is tempered, however, by the family’s claim that Anton, childless with his wife at the time they knew them, hasn’t yet told her the complete truth. As this emerges, communication between father and daughter grows increasingly strained.

Maria finds some solace in a tentative romance with German-fluent local cop Alejandro (Rafael Ferro), though he cautions her that even after nearly three decades, her true family is likely to associate police with human-rights crimes of yore.

Concise tale co-penned by Cossen and Elena von Saucken is intelligently told and crafted, though Schwarz is encouraged to be a bit more of a brooding, cool customer than is ideal for viewer empathy.

The Day I Was Not Born

Germany

Production

A TeamWorx Television and Film production in association with Bayerischer Rundfunk and Sudwestrundfunk. (International sales: TeamWorx, Ludwigsburg, Germany.) Produced by Jochen Laube, Fabian Maubach. Executive producer, Rodrigo Furth. Directed by Florian Cossen. Screenplay, Elena Von Saucken, Cossen.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthias Fleischer; editor, Philipp Thomas; production designer, Victoria Pedemonte; costume designers, Sandra Fink, Susanne Sasserath. Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival (competing), Sept. 3, 2010. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Jessica Schwarz, Michael Gwisdek, Rafael Ferro, Beatriz Spelzini, Carlos Portaluppi.

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