Argentina’s Fernan Miras on His Directorial Debut, ‘The Heavy Hand of the Law’

Actor-turned-director's first feature chronicles an appalling and often laugh-out-loud case of near miscarriage of justice in Argentina

The Heavy Hand of the Law

A star in Argentina since at least “Tango Feroz,” Fernan Miras has gone behind the camera to direct “The Heavy Hand of the Law,” produced by Fernando Sokolowicz, one of Argentina’s most established producers. It is a showcase for two things which so many Argentine movies so often do well: Trenchant comedy and eliciting fine performances from consummate actors, here including Dario Grandinetti, star of Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her” and “Julieta.”

The laugh-out-loud humor comes despite the fact that the film is based on a true case that was an outrageous case of police negligence and bigotry. In “The Heavy Hand of the Law,” Gloria Soriano, a public defender, is appointed as counsel for the defence of the Gringo Gomez, a man so ignorant he does not know what homosexuality is. He is accused of raping a mentally-handicapped member of his village community in the Argentine sticks. Both men are from Argentina’s humblest social strata. Gloria herself, after an accident, has a heavy limp. The case is written off as one village idiot raping another. But Soriano believes in her profession, senses Gomez is innocent, that this is a case of consensual sex. Against all the odds – the judge is a friend of the powerful prosecuting lawyer –  she sets out to prove this. Variety chatted with Fernan Miras at Ventana Sur after a private screening of the movie.

Set in 1983, under Argentina’s ghastly Junta, “The Heavy Hand of the Law” records a legal defence in the face of huge difficulties. It seems so singular that it has to be based on true events….

Yes. The other co-writer –Roberto Gispert– is a lawyer, and he showed me the real case. All lawyers have cases they laugh about. They showed us a lot of police files with a lot of mistakes, extraordinary misspellings. This was the first reason for our interest. What I remembered most was the picture of the Manfredo, the supposed victim, where he was put on all fours re-enacting the supposed crime. You never put a victim in a specific position and take a picture. But they did.

But it was a real picture of Manfredo?

Yes. You don’t put a woman with her legs open for a picture [after alleged rape]. Why? What was the reason? At first it was just a file, which lawyers laughed about. My co-writer was especially interested in the victims. How the system deals with the victims. I’m interested in real stories. I felt it was a good excuse to make a film mostly because it was a small case, not like those against pharmacy companies. A small case in a small town.

“Weight” has two very Argentinian things. The writing and dialogue, the latter’s black humor.  Why the comedy? This is in many ways a tragic case.

You can watch the hardest things of life if you laugh a little about them. Roberto and I talked to a lot of lawyers and judges. One of the first people we ran into was a woman lawyer –not Gloria but a friend– who said: “I’ve been a lawyer for twenty years and I’ve never defended an innocent person.”

Which you put into the film…

Yes. We have an image of justice as something meaningful. But the only thing that is true is what you can or cannot prove. The other key point for me was the vocational aspect of being a lawyer. Researching for the film, we asked lawyers: “Why did you start to study law?” Some answered along the lines of: “I was very young and I believed in justice.” Others had forgotten why. That was for me the most important thing about the story. Public defenders also have the additional problem that they’re saturated by work, working for the poor classes.

That can be seen in the office which Gloria shares with her colleague, played by Dario Barassi. The files piling up on their desks; and that the reason most people visit the office is to use their toilet.

The piles are much higher in real life than in the movie.

You have some very good character actors such as Dario Grandinetti and the lawyer for the prosecution – María Onetti, who starred in Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman,”  which competing at Cannes in 2008. How did you select them?

They asked me to be in the movie. At the time, for instance, Dario was going to star in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta.” He asked to read the screenplay, took a flight to Madrid, and phoned me from there to say he was in. I was very moved.

What do you think drives Gloria to spend so much time defending Gringo Gomez? 

When she sees that the professor she so admired at university has become the prosecuting lawyer, the opposite of her ideal, that motivates her even more. I think this happens in a lot of professions.