Airplane accidents always exert a morbid fascination — even more so in “Whisky Romeo Zulu,” where former pilot and whistleblower Enrique Pineyro expertly recounts a crash in full behind-the-scenes detail in his double role as director and main actor (playing himself). Beautifully shot and narrated, this re-created docudrama has the feel of a fictional story, and non-Argentinean viewers unfamiliar with the Lapa plane crash of August 1999 may be fooled until end credits roll. With the right handling, pic has the earmarks of a very marketable foreign-language item internationally.
Pic also is a courageous critique of the state of civil aviation after deregulation, and a rather chilling reminder that cut-rate fares do not always a safe journey make.
As a former accident investigator for the pilots’ association and a captain for Lapa Airlines, Pineyro had the scoop on the negligent maintenance of company planes and the pressure applied to make pilots fly against safety rules. His warnings went unheeded, and pic concludes with the inevitable disaster, the worst in Argentina’s history. Film still lacks a local distributor but created a flurry at its Buenos Aires festival premiere, where it won the audience award.
T. (Pineyro) has just been made a captain by the company as the story begins. His by-the-books insistence on following safety regulations, when all around him are cutting corners and closing an eye, soon earns him his bosses’ displeasure.
Apparently at the same time, a federal prosecutor is investigating the company. He begins to receive Mafia-style threats; a drive-by shooting blows out the windows in his house. Tension builds around whether he’ll continue his work amid increasing pressure.
A second, less-integrated subplot involves the captain’s private life and unsuccessful affair with a married woman, Marcela (Mercedes Moran). She, to his surprise, turns out to work for Lapa.
Pineyro, who resigned from the company shortly before the accident, turned to acting and has appeared in several Argentinean films, including “Garage Olimpo.” Here he limns a tired, unshaven but unbent man of principle, an easy hero to identify with. Moran is measured as a company woman torn between the conflicting desires of her bosses, her husband and her would-be lover.
D.p. Ramiro Civita’s desaturated color and clearly focused 35mm lensing gives film a stylish look. Editor Jacopo Quadri keeps the film rolling briskly down the tarmac.