Directed by Christopher Hampton, starring Antonio Banderas, Emma Thompson, Rubén Blades, Maria Canals, Kuno Becker, Claire Bloom and John Wood.
Booed by critics at the Venice Film Festival one night and receiving a standing ovation from an audience the next, Christopher Hampton has experienced the best type of publicity for 'Imagining Argentina' - the kind that makes people curious. And as its Venice experience proves, it's a film to split audiences: some will be deeply moved, while others will wonder what was the point. But both factions will think about the events that inspired it afterwards.
Based on Lawrence Thornton's best-selling book, the story is set in Buenos Aires in 1976 where theatre director Carlos Rueda (Banderas) and journalist wife Cecilia (Thompson) are part of middle class cafe society during the terror era of the junta. They are rousted out of their comfortable existence, however, when Cecilia writes an article about the growing numbers of "los desaparecidos" - "the disappeared" - and joins them just days later. After arriving home to a deserted house, his wife's reading glasses left on the floor, Carlos can get no help from the police and finds his thoughts about the future and the past racing ahead of him. But as the days and weeks move on, Carlos discovers that he now has the power to see what has happened to the disappeared, offering hope to their families - and himself.
Having spent the last few years working on 'The Spy Kids' franchise, 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' and straight-to-video dross like 'Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever' and 'Original Sin', it's good to see Banderas tackling a serious role, and doing it very well. His portrayal of the wounded Carlos, "a man who has only ever believed in what is rational" who now finds himself clairvoyant, is what holds the film together. Because while 'Imagining Argentina' is deeply moving, it is also one-sided character-wise, as Thompson's Cecilia is never developed in the same way as Banderas' Carlos. We see her in prison, enduring ritual brutality, but don't get an insight into how her imagination is fuelling her hope and keeping her alive. Whether this point of view is in book is irrelevant - the film needed it.
Hampton's mixing of thriller and love story, cinematic coincidence and historical fact makes this film flawed but fascinating. It is neither the triumph nor the disaster that Venice suggested. But it is worth seeing.