Betty Kaplan’s intriguing first feature is a story of love, politics and truth set after Chile’s military coup in 1973. It’s based on the novel Isabel Allende wrote after “The House of the Spirits”– and could do some specialized arthouse business internationally.
Performed in English by an almost entirely native Spanish-speaking cast, the film is accessible by international audiences, yet retains the Hispanic flavor that audiences will expect. It does this without being condescending or stereotyped, and its wide range of quirky characters (from a gay makeup artist to a heavy-set house maid who speaks only in rhyming verse) are believable despite their eccentricities.
Jennifer Connelly is Irene, an upper-crust Chilean woman, engaged to be married to her cousin Gustavo (Camilo Gallardo), an elite army captain. One day, a handsome, actively liberal photographer named Francisco (Antonio Banderas) comes in for a job at the fashion magazine where Irene works as a reporter. They go to research a fluff-piece on a self-proclaimed living saint, Angelina. Some soldiers come as well, interrupting Angelina’s religious trance, and she hurls one into the mud.
Angelina then becomes one of Chile’s “missing,” taken by the insulted military. Irene tells Angelina’s distraught mother, “I will help you.” Her journey takes her closer to Francisco, but en route both of them learn up-close and firsthand about the excesses of the Chilean military. Pic is based on a true incident that started the long process of stemming the military’s power.
Performances are top-notch. Connelly is convincing in her evolution from a frivolous young woman to one willing to take risks for the sake of compassion and freedom. Banderas’ characterization of Francisco is passionate and heart-winning.
Also deserving of special kudos are Patricio Contreras as Mario, a gay makeup artist, and Susana Cortinez as the humorous housekeeper.
Shot on location in Argentina, near the border of Chile, the film boasts impeccable technical credits and slick editing.