Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
Original Title: Muerte en Buenos Aires
Argentina, 2014. Screenplay by Natalia Meta, collaborating writers Laura Farhi, Gustavo Malajovich, Luz Orlando Brennan. Cinematography by Rodrigo Pulpeiro. Produced by Fabiana Tiscornia. Music by Daniel Melero. Production Design by Mariela Ripodas. Costume Design by Valentina Bari, Daniel Melero. Film Editing by Eliane Katz, Alejandro Nakano.
Macho police detective Damien Bichir is plunged into his city’s gay nightlife when a member of a prominent Buenos Aires family is found brutally murdered and his scandal-conscious relatives are anxious to solve the crime while keeping it quiet. The beat cop who was on the scene and found the body is a young rookie (Chino Darín) who is promoted to Bichir’s division after he saves our protagonist from a sticky situation in his own home involving his wife and son. This unlikely duo begin their search at a club frequented by the deceased, his contacts there appearing to be likely suspects, particularly a cabaret performer who was the dead man’s lover. Bichir enlists his young partner, who is annoying him with his hero worship, to pose as a new love interest for the murder suspect, which Darin happily agrees to, calmly playing the part of sexual fluidity despite actually being engaged to be married. Darin’s willingness to be the object of a male gaze extends to Bichir as well, who is frustrated with this seemingly naïve recruit and is building up a friction that could be jealousy (over Darin’s youth) but that the film suggests could also veer into the sexual. Anyone familiar with the Thomas Mann novella being referenced by the title won’t be surprised by the heady atmosphere of unfulfilled sexual attraction that is as intoxicating as the beauty of the two leads, their handsome faces constantly framed by the luscious colour scheme created by cinematographer Rodrigo Pulpeiro. Director Natalia Meta creates a murder mystery that has some fun twists involving visually exciting elements, such as a wonderful horse stampede down the city’s streets at midnight, smoothly drawing us into the search for a killer and delivering a thrilling ride despite the fact that the plot has more than a few holes. It’s clear from the story’s illogical coincidences that its themes (namely the country’s issues with class and toxic masculinity) were determined before its narrative was, but these themes land with an awkward thud, as the examination of male sexuality, violence and the uncomfortable overlaps between the two is preached by never practiced. Exploring the vulnerabilities of buddy-cop action films and finding the tensions that usually go unspoken gives both leads opportunities to give strong performances, but Darin’s is the more convincing portrait of a layered enigma, the suggestion that Bichir’s character is struggling with identity and desire never happens despite the fact that we are told that it is. As a result, the ending, which won’t be too surprising to Mann readers, is not fully earned by the imbalances of the story that preceded it, but all these flaws don’t erase the memory of the sexy and dangerous moments that stand out.