There have been rumblings of late down Buenos Aires way that, nearly a decade since its emergence, the New Argentine Cinema is running out of steam. Watching this fourth feature from one of its most influential figures, Pablo Trapero (‘Crane World’), you understand why, though there’s little cause for panic. Mostly, it’s an impressive piece of work, diligently focusing on Santiago (Guillermo Pfening), an interior designer and family man wrenched by tragedy into a personal purgatory in remote Patagonia. The film abandons him screaming in darkness after a road crash involving his wife and daughter, re-emerging in the bright, barren south, where, now unrecognisable, he’s toiling as a hunter and airport labourer. Silent about his past, his turmoil over what happened in the crash (details are kept hazy) is revealed only in bouts of detachment, rage, panic and vomiting captured by the stalking camera.
It’s an existential nightmare of grief, guilt and penance, with Guillermo Nieto’s sublime photography of the frozen, otherworldly landscape a correlative to Santiago’s suspended state. Complicating matters is a sense he’s wished this hellish exile upon himself – the opening scenes in his stylish, all-white Buenos Aires home catch him covertly wincing and frowning at his ‘idyllic’ family life and daydreaming of jumping off snowy Patagonian cliffs. But, this male crisis compassionately established, it’s a predictable trudge to its resolution, with Santiago’s two companions – Robert (Federico Esquerro), fretting about his ex’s pregnancy, and Cacique (Tomás Lipan), nursing his terminally ill wife – the only, slightly schematic spurs onwards. The much-anticipated climax finally rears out of nowhere and feels frustratingly undeveloped. A nicely counterpointing folk soundtrack aside, more surprise turns might have soothed doubts about Argentine cinema’s continuing newness.