The year is 1976. Buenos Aires, Argentina. A ruthless dictatorship has just begun, where people who speak out against the government are “disappeared.”
One of the “disappeared” is newspaper columnist, Cecilia Rueda (Emma Thompson). Her recent column denounces the government for kidnapping some young men who were in a disagreement over a bus fare. When her husband Carlos (Antonio Banderas) returns home and can’t find her, he goes to the police only to receive little help.
In what could be the film…s biggest flaw — or it’s most ambitious characteristic, Carlos realizes he has some kind of power that connects him to the kidnapped victims. He tells an old woman who has lost her son that he is still alive, even though Carlos just heard the son’s name when the woman gave it to him. And while Carlos is connected to Cecilia, he can envision only portions of Cecilia’s whereabouts and must work his way through a maze of separate images to find her.
While this unexplained supernatural phenomena initially feels out of place in a political thriller such as this, it does work on some level. Like Memento and other similar thrillers, it creates a puzzle that at first confuses the viewer but then gradually makes more sense as the film progresses.
Antonio Banderas, who is overly hammy or cheesy in most of his roles — is wonderfully understated here. His Carlos is tortured by the visions of his wife and the other kidnapped victims and he desperately seeks to find her with every waking moment. There is constant sweat on his brow as he retraces the steps from his mysterious visions and as he stands in crowds with pictures of his missing wife. You truly feel for him, especially when Carlos loses it after a strategy to be united with his wife fails.
Emma Thompson, one of the best female thespians on the planet, is oddly miscast here as an Argentinean woman. While her dialogue is contorted with both Spanish and British accents, she does manage to put together a solid performance full of terror and sadness. One scene will surely remind you of what I believe to be the best moment of acting in the history of film — Al Pacino’s “silent scream” at the end of The Godfather, Part III.
As Teresa Rueda, daughter of Carlos and Cecilia, Leticia Dolera turns in another wonderful performance of sorrow and confusion as she witnesses her father fainting during one of his visions and then one of terror when she finds herself in danger.
While the supernatural aspect of Imagining Argentina may come out of left field, it does contribute to a satisfying film, despite some shortcomings. The film offers no explanation for Carlos’ psychic connection to the kidnapping victims and the ending may leave you with even more questions than it answers. However, the great performances elevate Imagining Argentina to hidden gem status. At times it is brutal, and at times it is very touching and sad. But I am very glad I’ve seen Imagining Argentina, knowing that I would have never seen it if I hadn’t reviewed it for this web site.
Produced by Universal Studios, Imagining Argentina boasts an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen picture. Set in the mid-1970’s, the colors are drab, but match the feeling of the film. There is no grain or pixelation whatsoever. Although the film may look a few years older than it really is, there is little else to complain about when it comes to the way it looks on screen.
Imagining Argentina comes with a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. While the film is mostly quiet and dialogue driven, sudden jolts of gunshots or an open car door slamming into a parked truck will grab your attention instantly. Some scenes are hard to hear due to the actors mumbling, which caused me to enable the English subtitles. Your surrounds and LFE will mostly go unused — except for the aforementioned scenes of startling chaos.
There are no extras on this disc.
While Carlos’ unexplained psychic connection to the kidnapped victims might lose some viewers from the start, Imagining Argentina is a strong and quiet film — filled with some powerful performances and imagery. Although there is no bonus material to supplement the movie, the questions this film will raise within you should be enough until there is another version of the film released on DVD, if there ever is. Despite some shortcomings with the disc and movie, do yourself a favor and seek out this hidden gem.