After “Autumn Sun,” his heartwarming, prize-winning 1996 study of love in late middle age, Argentine helmer Eduardo Mignogna returns with “The Southern Lighthouse,” an intermittently charming but over-long study of sisterly love in times of trouble. Pic stars one of Spain’s best young female thesps, the enchanting, doe-eyed Ingrid Rubio. But while it’s intermittently powerful, plot is too drawn out to sustain interest, and schmaltzy music and picture-postcard photography end up detracting from, rather than enhancing, the powerful emotions helmer clearly wants to generate. Pic is unlikely to break beyond Spanish-speaking territories.
Events are related largely in flashback. Meme (Rubio, in her most challenging role to date) and 10-year-old sister Aneta (Jimena Baron) are orphaned after a car crash. As a result of the accident, Meme has a limp, which seriously affects her self-esteem. (This girl has “victim” written all over her from the first frame.) The sisters are thrown on the mercy of their two spinster aunts in Uruguay, from whom they run away after Meme, always the restless rebel, urinates in the wine.
After they arrive in Buenos Aires, Meme becomes a surrogate mother to Aneta, as well as experiencing late-teen growing pains and boy trouble because of her bad leg. Working in a bar, she meets Andy (Ricardo Darin), with whom she has an on-off affair, and Dolores (Norma Aleandro), an old friend of her mother.
Pic’s strongest point is the love-hate relationship between the sisters, with Baron a standout as the emotionally confused Aneta. Things start going wrong for Meme and the pic at about the same time — she has an abortion, screws up with Andy, has a lung removed, marries Dolores’ brother (Norberto Diaz) and suffers a sorry fate. Dramatically untidy coda, eight years later, shows Aneta as an adolescent (now played by Florencia Bertotti): Mignogna’s desire to wring the maximum emotional effect from the final few frames becomes wearisome, with the script committing the fatal flaw of introducing a major new character (Aneta’s boyfriend) too late.
Many leisurely looks through the happy images in family photograph albums define the mood, and the audience is left with the impression of having seen several interesting and well-played character portraits fall victim to a slow script. Tech credits are fine.