Chilean director Ricardo Larrain, whose well-regarded 1991 debut, “The Border ,” was set during the Pinochet regime, follows with “Enthusiasm,” set 10 years later, when political idealism and the utopian spirit have been crushed by the rampant development and competitiveness of the country’s post-dictatorship economy. Solidly directed and performed morality tale about the disillusionment of democracy is too unsatisfyingly developed to register beyond Spanish-language territories but should pick up scattered festival bookings.
In a brief prologue taking place in 1984, Isabel (Spanish thesp Maribel Verdu) and Fernando (Alvaro Escobar) are introduced by their friend Guillermo (Alvaro Rudolphi), who inspires them with his dreams of an independent republic. Ten years later, the military junta has been replaced by democracy.
Isabel and Fernando travel across the desert with their young son (Gianfranco Lebrini) to Arica on the Peruvian border, where they reunite with Guillermo and set up a successful business conducting historical tours for gringos.
Fernando’s idea for a multimedia spectacle combining Chilean history, culture and politics becomes a success, attracting the attention of some shady real estate developers. They involve him in the construction of a luxury village in the desert — a cynical counterpart to Guillermo’s vision of a utopian state.
As hard-driven, frequently absent Fernando becomes more caught up in work and his dangerous new circle of associates, Isabel loses patience. She leaves the isolated construction site and returns to Arica, eventually moving in with Guillermo. But relations between all three old friends are destined to crumble.
Larrain and co-writer Jorge Goldenberg’s script remains involving only up to a point, its tension unraveling as the events leading to Fernando’s downfall become frustratingly murky. Contributing to the dramatic shortcomings of the climactic stretch is an inadequately drawn key character, played by Carmen Maura , who serves as a mysterious messenger between Fernando and his wife.
Shot mainly in the dry expanses of Northern Chile’s deserts, the $ 1 million co-production is technically smooth in all departments.