A private Swiss banker. Wealthy sophisticates with fortunes to protect. An Argentine junta that’s "disappearing" people.
You'd be right to think those ingredients are the touchstones of a pulse-pounding international thriller but you'd be wrong.
Director Andreas Fontana's Azor takes a probing, quiet, and beautifully nuanced look at a world in which morality, money and pragmatism are as well-dressed as the movie's characters.
Fontana provides us with a surrogate to take us into an affluent world that until recently has been entirely comfortable with itself. We’re in Argentina in 1980.
Swiss banker Yvan de Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione) arrives in Buenos Aires with his sophisticated wife Ines (Stephanie Cleau). As a man of discretion and financial acumen, de Wiel takes on the task of reassuring the bank's clients that their money is safe -- which also means that their way of life is sustainable.
De Weil’s trip results from the unexplained disappearance of the bank's previous man in Argentina, a banker named Keys whose personality and contradictions are discussed as de Wiel makes his rounds.
Azor isn't a portrait of a marriage, but Rongione and Cleau create a clear picture of a relationship in which de Wiel relies on a wife who advises him and who perfectly fits into the social milieus in which they travel. Cleau and her character never make a false move.
At the time of de Wiel's visit, the Argentine rich are not without anxiety. The junta could at any moment seize their property or "disappear" a rebellious child who embraces resistance politics.
For the most part, de Wiel's clients are polished, multi-lingual denizens of the world. They wear their privilege easily.
One man (Ignacio Vila) is more boorish. He's represented by a lawyer (Juan Pablo Gerreto) who makes little attempt to blunt the ruthlessness that can underly the acquisition of a great fortune.
Fontana doesn’t dramatize the horrors created by a government that murders its opposition. He's interested in the ways a climate of menace impacts even those who are accustomed to living in a gated world of affluence. He reinforces an underplayed sense of menace with a judiciously applied musical score that sounds ominous notes.
Rongione wisely keeps de Wiel's personal sentiments and politics in check. But he's a skilled enough actor to let us know that de Wiel tries to read every situation he encounters and every person with whom he meets.
At one point, de Wiel talks with Monsignor Tatosky (Pablo Torre Nilson), a churchman who offers an icy rationale for the junta's behavior before getting down to the business of how to handle a sizable chunk of money.
Almost until its final act, de Wiel never leaves the insulated world that money can buy. A last-act trip into the jungle exposes a shady operation and gives de Wiel a last chance to define himself.
I can't think of a recent film that deals so subtly or so provocatively with ethical issues. Azor is one of the year's best films, a movie that doesn’t have to raise its voice to find its power while also alerting us to how much horror can unfold when people become overly skilled at biting their tongues.