Take an epic tale of love and friendship in turn-of-the-century Buenos Aires, spice it with a sexy cast in period costumes and stir in sumptuous music and neat special effects. The only thing neglected by helmer Gerardo Herrero, whose chameleon-like career has crossed various genres, was the script. There’s enough material and characters in “Southern Border” for a TV series, but at 98 minutes it ends up looking like a poorly edited version of itself. Result is unlikely to cross any borders beyond Spanish-speaking territories.
Set in Argentina 100 years ago, pic stars hunky Spanish thesp Jose Coronado as the widowed Roque, who killed a man in Spain and had to emigrate with his young son, Ramon (Francisco Corbalan). Accompanied by his German-Jewish, accordion-playing socialist friend Hermann (Peter Lohmeyer), Roque starts distributing tobacco for Posse (Luis Brandoni). A barman suggests he sells morphine instead, but Roque is a decent man, and refuses (pic is littered with scenes which serve only to briefly establish character).
Faithful to the memory of his dead wife, Roque limits himself to exchanging shy glances with Sara (Laura Novoa), who wants to mother Ramon but is dying of cholera. (Anyone in picture who coughs is about to croak.) Meanwhile, Posse’s son, Manolo (Norberto Verea), mournfully plays his accordion: Unusually well-endowed, he cannot find a woman prepared to sleep with him — one of several magical-realist touches in pic which don’t come off.
Roque meets Maidana (Federico Luppi, by some distance giving the best perf), an urbane ghost who died at the hands of a professional “cutthroat and philosopher” (Villanueve Cosse). He reveals himself to only two people — the other is Piera (Maribel Verdu), an unlikely brothel owner for whom Roque falls. Piera (real name Teresa) hasn’t slept with anyone for two years, so she and Roque are made for one another.
Pic haphazardly bundles together romance, comedy and magical-realism under the heading of “epic,” but characterization is brushstroke and motivation minimal — particularly in the final 15 minutes, as the script suddenly has something important happen to everyone so their lives can then go wrong. Movie’s biggest problem is that all characters are minor — even Roque, who changes from being a decent man to a money-grabbing capitalist without any psychological explanation. Direction is uninspired, Alfredo Mayo’s lensing solid and period detail well-researched.