Viggo Mortensen plays both good and evil twin in this intriguing jungle-bound mystery.
If a story in which Viggo Mortensen does his moody, soulful thing as a doctor keeping bees in the countryside sounds like a cross between Le Quattro Volte and peril-neutral Russell Crowe yawner A Good Year, you may want to think again. Ana Piterbarg’s debut feature may be paced with seasonal graduality but it’s an impressive slow-burner that owes more to the likes of Blood Simple than stock rural romanticism. And fans of Viggo’s customary brooding will be doubly rewarded by his portrayal of twin brothers whose life- swap is the McGuffin around which strange things start to unravel.
Augustin is a Buenos Aires doctor with the kind of apparent comfort and contentment that, in movies, can only conceal a seething frustration. He has a beautiful wife/home/career, but has, of late, lost all his mirth. He wants out. As luck would have it, he has a twin brother, bee-keeping wrong ’un Pedro, who is dying of cancer. Pedro’s unexpected appearance is the cue for Augustin to disappear, taking on his brother’s identity and returning to the backwoods river delta where the twins spent their youth. Their futures have been swapped: Augustin will die soon in Buenos Aires; Pedro will live with his bees in the boonies.
Only trouble is, Pedro’s activities go well beyond making honey. Out in the Tigre Delta, Augustin is now the owner of Pedro’s business, but he has also bought into the intrigues and vendettas endemic to what was once the playground of Argentine high society, now a backwater home to criminals and ne’er do wells; a veritable hive of scum and villainy. As it becomes clear that his brother was a key player in a kidnapping plot, Augustin begins to discover a darker side to his own placid nature and we start to wonder just how different the twins really are.
Through this turn of events we’re introduced to Adrian, the chilling, Bible-quoting local kingpin, played with enjoyable relish by Daniel Fanego and a fine addition to the cinematic tradition of morally certain psychotic gangsters. That character’s main on-screen competition comes from the film’s setting itself, a river delta that is by turns lush and stark and shot with poetic nonchalance by DoP Lucio Bonelli.
The watery, forested world provides a stage where civilisation is diminished in favour of Adrian’s "code" and where the assumptions –moral and legal – that underpinned Augustin’s old life hold no sway. Much has been made of how Mortensen came on board the film, a chance meeting at a Buenos Aires health club, but this is still perfect casting.
Even those who sometimes find his dour intensity wearing will have to admit that here, inhabiting his duel personas and speaking in the Spanish dialect with which he grew up, his performance is the riveting fulcrum that holds together a stately narrative and turns an intriguing premise into an impressively gripping fable.
Argentina produces some great crime movies but Viggo can get mightily downbeat.
Oh boy, lazy flashback narrative alert? Thankfully no – just the first twist in a majestic slow-burn thriller.
At heart it’s a crime flick, but Piterbarg has woven in a woozy psychological undercurrent with a powerful pull that places it a cut above.