Sunday, June 25, 2017

Argentina's Black Snow (A Film Review)

Ski season started early in South America this year, as Pacific storms blanketed Chile’s side of the Andes with snow, and more than enough made it across the cordillera into Argentina. Skiing, though, is not the theme behind Argentine director Martín Hodara’s Nieve Negra (“Black Snow”), which has recently turned up on Netflix (while the trailer below is in Spanish, the Netflix version has subtitles). Rather, to make a somewhat misleading generalization, it’s a family drama about an inheritance. In fact, it’s more than that, and I’ll try to suggest that without revealing any spoilers.
Presumably set in Patagonia’s “Lakes District”—the film never mentions a specific location—the story centers around a forested property owned by a family whose father has died. In any film about southernmost South America, I always try to identify the locale but, in this case, I noted that the trees along the road to the homestead appeared to be pines or other Northern Hemisphere conifers. Later, researching the film’s antecedents, I learned that it was shot at least partly in the Pyrenees of Andorra and Spain, whose terrain resembles that around Bariloche or San Martín de los Andes, which I expected to be the likely setting.

In the aftermath of the patriarch’s death, the younger brother Marcos (Leonardo Sbaraglia) has returned from Buenos Aires, with his Spanish wife Laura (Laia Costa), to try to convince the rest of the family—including his mentally disturbed sister Sabrina (Dolores Fonzi, in what is barely a cameo)—to sell the property to a forestry company. However, the family lawyer Sepia (a small but noteworthy role played by Federico Luppi) also obliges him to try to obtain the consent of his older brother Salvador (Ricardo Darín), whom Marcos prefers to avoid.

Darín, probably Argentina’s best known contemporary actor, plays a role far removed from his early romantic leads (mind you, at age 60 he’s certainly reached the upper limit for that). Here, instead, he’s a scruffy hermit who has issues with his siblings, particularly his brother. There are issues that deal not just with family secrets, but also on how those secrets fit into a larger context—in this case, I would suggest, the context of public and private corruption in Argentina.

Saying anything more might give away the ending but, in my judgement, it’s more than just a tale of sibling rivalry. Arguably, one might say, it’s an allegory of how Argentine society works, at several levels—until it doesn’t—and its victims are not always obvious at first. In the end, co-optation becomes the default option.

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