The corruption and melancholy lurking beneath the glossy-catalogue lives of contempo capitalism are by now a cultural cliche, but the acuteness, range and relevance of “Thursday’s Widows” ensure that it brings something new to the table. Though set during Argentina’s political and economic crisis of 2001, this subtle, well-played item about life in a classy Argentinean residential development has much to say about current global troubles. Though the pic underfires as the thriller it aspires to be, there’s enough style and substance here to suggest “Widows” will receive offshore solace.
Sublimely elegant, Prozac-guzzling Teresa (Ana Celentano) returns home one night to find her husband, Tano (Pablo Echarri), dead in their swimming pool, along with the corpses of his friends, ineffectual, nosebleed-prone Martin (Ernesto Alterio) and borderline-psychopathic Gustavo (Juan Diego Botto).
Much of the pic unspools in flashback. Tano sells insurance scams to the dying, defending it as simply extreme capitalism; Martin has lost his job and cannot bring himself to tell his already spiteful wife, Lala (Gloria Carra), about it. The new arrival in the neighborhood is churlish Gustavo, married to Carla (Juana Viale, the pic’s weak thesping link). Also in the characters’ orbit are real-estate agent Mavi (Gabriela Toscano) and her unemployed husband, Ronnie (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who was with the men the night they died.
Psychologically, things are not much healthier with the next generation. Martin and Lala’s daughter, pouty teen rebel Trina (Vera Spinetta), verbally abuses her parents and buys drugs from security guard (Adrian Navarro); Mavi and Ronnie’s nerdy, socially challenged son, Juan (Camilo Cuello Vitale), pretends to be a girl on the Internet.
An early garden-party setpiece, at which everyone wears white, is typical of the highly stylized visuals: Lenser Alfredo Mayo might have been viewing Jack Clayton’s film of “The Great Gatsby,” and indeed there is much about “Thursday’s Widows” that suggests an Argentine version of the story. The shadows fall crisply and perfectly across the pale, blue-hued surfaces, all suggestive of something fragile that could too easily be blown away.
The question of how the guys drowned is kept bubbling nicely throughout and wraps up plausibly enough. But the script is less interested in ratcheting up tension than in unpacking the lives of its protags, which it does in a balanced and scrupulous way, so that all the stories earn their place.
A basically strong cast provides enough nuance that, even at more than two hours, the pic never feels long despite its leisurely pace. Sbaraglia, as a slightly buffoonish outsider, delivers probably his best perf to date. The focus stays tight on the psychological effects and deep insecurities engendered by instant wealth, with only brief, oblique reference to the wider economic causes.
Pic is strongest in those setpieces — a tennis match, a funeral — when the group is together, and the tensions between what they’re hiding and what they want others to see become most apparent. Inevitably, there’s a sense of deja vu to some of the dialogue and plot points.
Roque Banos’ low-key orchestral score is used sparingly, in keeping with pic’s general air of self-possessed good taste.