Revisiting a painful chapter in Argentina’s history, “Garage Olimpo” is set during the military dictatorship that terrorized the country from 1976 to 1980, when numerous people “disappeared.” Helmer Marco Bechis, whose 1991 “Alambrado” played at many international film fests, has a different take on the political situation, which has been depicted in several movies, including the Oscar-winning “The Official Story.” Though well-intentioned and impressively mounted, pic is too schematic, viewing the situation from a detached perspective that lacks much emotional power. This will limit theatrical prospects in the U.S. and other countries where political mellers are not much in demand, but pic should makes the rounds of European fests.
Tale centers on the peculiar relationship that evolves between a rebellious woman and her mother’s tenant when they realize they’re on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Attractive heroine Maria (Antonella Costa) is an idealistic woman who works in a slum, teaching reading and writing skills to the poor workers. She’s also active in a militant organization that ferociously opposes the ruthless authoritarian regime.
In the first scene, which re-creates actual events, Maria visits a friend and plants a bomb under the bed of a high-ranking political officer. The film’s conclusion is linked to that event.
Dominique Sanda plays Maria’s mother, a wealthy widow living on a large, run-down estate where she rents out rooms. One of the tenants is Felix (Carlos Echeverria), a shy man who appears to have no family or past. Working in a garage, Felix stares at Maria longingly, though she’s clearly not interested in cultivating a friendship with him.
One morning, a squad of armed soldiers invades the house and arrests Maria. She’s taken to the Olimpo Garage, one of numerous torture centers the military runs in the heart of Buenos Aires, unbeknownst to the general citizenry. Tigre (Enrique Pineyro), who’s supervising the clandestine operation, hands Maria to one of his aides — none other than Felix.
A peculiar relationship evolves between Maria and Felix. Blindfolded, Maria gets preferential treatment from Felix — at a high risk. It’s an asymmetric relationship, with Felix genuinely caring for Maria while her motivations are solely based on survival instincts.Helmer Bechis avoids the overtly melodramatic approach of “The Official Story” and minimizes the story’s inherent brutality in favor of a more intimate, two-character drama. But he doesn’t evince a strong grasp on his characters, who are schematically constructed and shown from a distant, rather reserved perspective.
As a result, pic lacks the intensity and complexity of other similar dramas about captor-captive dynamics, such as “Death and the Maiden” and “The Night Porter.” There are tender and sexual tender scenes, but the central duo, although well limned by Costa and Echeverria, remain ciphers.
Tech credits are good, particularly aerial shots of Buenos Aires, which are used as pauses to stress the disparity between the outdoor vistas and the indoor areas where the brutal torment takes place.