Implausible ambiguities come out of “Possible Lives,” Sandra Gugliotta’s plodding sophomore feature, which exhibits all the hallmarks of new Argentinean cinema’s exploration of a national identity crisis. Constructed to remain open to as many outcomes as the imagination can grasp, pic’s underlying mystery, centered on a man’s disappearance in Patagonia and his wife’s obsession with a possible look-alike, is rendered only marginally thought-provoking, though the very controlled shifts from murky closeups to expansive mountain vistas generate some visual interest. Possible lives yes, but improbable ticket sales.
Geologist Luciano (German Palacios) disappears on his way to a hotel in remote Patagonia. Wife Clara (Ana Celentano), an artist with an air more suited to Buenos Aires than the outback, heads down south to try to get answers, but a police inspector (Guillermo Arengo) holds out little hope of finding anyone in the vast emptiness.
One day Clara sees a man she’s convinced is her husband, but Luis Miconi (also Palacios) has been a resident of those parts for six years — except for an unexplained period when he disappeared. Convinced that Luis, a real estate agent, is her amnesiac husband, Clara spies on him and his wife (Natalia Oreiro), then poses as a prospective home buyer just so she can get closer to the undemonstrative man.
As Clara’s obsession intensifies, she cuts off everyone around her, ignoring calls from sister Elena (Marina Glezer) and attempted communications from the police. Elena’s arrival coincides with the discovery of a car and body in a nearby lake, but Clara’s conviction that Luis and Luciano are the same man means she won’t even entertain other possibilities.
Gugliotta’s unwise decision to keep all solutions in play feels more like a screenwriter’s uncertainty than a deep philosophical statement. It’s likely Clara is imagining a resemblance between her husband and the real estate agent, but pic refuses to give answers, and initial scenes of Clara and Luciano together don’t conjure up enough of a sense of a happy couple. Gugliotta would have done well to stick to just one mystery, rather than throwing in additional twists (i.e. shots of Luis’ wife crying in bed, without any explanation).Pic’s most satisfying element is its incorporation of the snow-covered landscape into the mystery. In keeping with a number of recent Argentine films shot in Patagonia, there’s an unsettling sense that the sparsely populated region is a cross between the Bermuda Triangle and a stint in the Foreign Legion — contributing to madness with its promise of complete escape from the civilized capital and its hustle and bustle.
Adding to this feel are Gugliotta’s lensing decisions, which include slightly unsteady handheld closeups that add to the sense of lives off-balance. Panoramas of mountains and lakes are muted (presumably a deliberate choice was made to favor a texturally softened HD), conveying the sense of an imposing, harsh and becalming landscape.