Altiplano

'Altiplano's' strong cast and some technically impressive moments could hook distribs seeking latte-friendly arthouse fare.

With:
With: Magaly Solier, Jasmin Tabatabai, Olivier Gourmet, Behi Djanati Atai, Edgar Condori, Sonia Loaiza, Edgar Quispe, Norma Martinez. (French, Quechua, Persian, Spanish dialogue)

After their 2006 Mongolia-set debut “Khadak,” filmmakers Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth globe-trot to the backlands of Peru in the hyper-stylized, Andes-set drama “Altiplano.” Some auds may appreciate this ripped-from-the-headlines tale of a Belgian doctor and his photojournalist wife caught up in a local mining incident. But all the symbolic imagery, oversaturated sound and self-serious dialogue don’t help to make the story any more compelling. Strong cast and some technically impressive moments could hook distribs seeking precisely this kind of latte-friendly arthouse fare.

Skipping across several continents and characters, and including such hot topics as the war in Iraq and the exploitation of Latin America by European corporations, pic is a much more artsy take on the globalized-network narrative made popular by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel.” But where the latter connected its multiple plot points through a fragmented thriller storyline, here Brosens and Woodworth offer a lyrical approach that uses visual metaphors and thematically hefty gestures to hammer their message home.

Booming opening has war photog Grace (Iranian-born German actress Jasmin Tabatabai) losing her local fixer in a deadly incident in Iraq. Back in Belgium with her optometrist hubby, Max (Dardenne brothers regular Olivier Gourmet), she can’t manage to salvage herself or her career. So she sticks around when Max sets off to a rural clinic in Peru that offers free eye surgery to the indigenous population.

Meantime, Andean bride-to-be Saturina (Magaly Solier, “The Milk of Sorrow”) is gearing up for her big day, while her fiance (Edgar Quispe) performs various pre-marriage rituals as he treks across a slew of impressive mountain landscapes. When he unexpectedly dies, Max, Saturina and eventually Grace find themselves in a battle that pits the Indian population against the mining company responsible for the recent plague of illnesses.

While this all seems fairly clear on paper, the filmmakers make comprehension much more elusive, jumping from one scene to the next without necessarily making any connections, especially in the early stages. Later, the story gets stuffed with generic symbolism (pictures of victims floating in the water, a bed in the middle of the desert, a blind man crafting a statue of the Virgin Mary) or dialogue (“Without an image, there is no story”). Result feels way more Euro-centric than Andean-authentic.

Still, pic does benefit from impeccable, color-rich lensing by d.p. Francisco Gozon (“The Color of Happiness”) and some evocative, though at times invasive, sound work by Michel Schopping (who also scored “Khadak”).

Effective multinational cast, especially Tabatabai and Solier as two women from different worlds who fall victim to similar fates, also helps compensate for the film’s lack of subtlety.

Altiplano

Belgium-Germany-Netherlands

Production: An MA.JA.DE Fiction (Germany)/BO Films, Entre Chien & Loup (Belgium)/Lemming Film (Netherlands) production, in association with ZDF/Arte. (International sales: Meridiana Films, London.) Produced by Heino Deckert. Directed, written by Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth.

Crew: Camera (color), Francisco Gozon; editor, Nico Leunen; music, Michel Schopping; production designers, Guillermo Isa, Anne Fournier; costume designer, Leslie Hinojosa; sound (Dolby Digital), Michel Schopping, Pepijn Aben, Mathieu Cox; assistant directors, Gaston Vizcarra, Arnout Andre de la Porte; casting, Barbara Acosta. Reviewed at Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, May 4, 2009. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Critics' Week.) Running time: 110 MIN.

With: With: Magaly Solier, Jasmin Tabatabai, Olivier Gourmet, Behi Djanati Atai, Edgar Condori, Sonia Loaiza, Edgar Quispe, Norma Martinez. (French, Quechua, Persian, Spanish dialogue)

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