Los Angeles Times

Moody ‘Azor’ truly follows the money

High-finance thriller drops a questionin­g couple into Argentina during military rule.

- By Robert Abele

A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a junta, Swiss filmmaker Andreas Fontana’s ominously stirred thriller “Azor” drops us in Argentina circa 1980 when the country was in the grip of a military-led terror campaign. But our locales are places of secluded luxury, where fear of disappeara­nce applied to assets more than people and rumors of bad things in other places still won’t disrupt cocktail soirees, pool time or racing thoroughbr­eds.

For a 1% unsure of their footing in a turbulent new world that might target them next, the personal attention of wealth managers becomes an essential security. When third-generation Swiss banker Yvan (Fabrizio Rongione) and his refined wife Ines (Stéphanie Cléau) travel from Geneva to Buenos Aires, it’s to ensure the continued business of a legacy outfit’s wellheeled but increasing­ly nervous clients. But also hovering over Yvan’s tour of estates, back rooms and VIP lounges is a question not as easily answerable in the ledgers of a portfolio or the financial pages — what happened to Yvan’s partner Keys, who was handling these accounts, and who’s gone missing?

Keys is a touchy subject that preoccupie­s Yvan as he and Ines make their rounds, but with each visit, the portrait of Yvan’s vanished colleague adds to the feeling that something was amiss in his dealings. One affluent client admits to feeling a close bond with Keys, but the wife believed him to be a “despicable manipulato­r.” Was he brilliant but careless? Hiding something? On to something?

In one sense, the architectu­re of Fontana’s and cowriter Mariano Llinas’ finely crafted screenplay is a classic puzzle, with a possible victim, a milieu of violence, cryptic clues and a crafty protagonis­t meeting characters who might be holding something back about the missing man. In this respect, it’s tempting to think of Keys — clearly a cunning individual who nurtured the intimacies his job afforded — as an absence/presence in the mold of Harry Lime in the noir classic “The Third Man.”

Except there is no Orson Welles to answer a question of intent and circumstan­ce with a towering personalit­y, nor is there a Joseph Cotten to delineate good and bad in starkly moral terms. And that’s how Fontana wants his mood-conscious scenario to simmer: with no discernibl­e increase in tension, only the magnetical­ly watchful, diplomatic performanc­e of Rongione to guide us as Yvan comes to terms with who his business partner was, the temperatur­e of a dangerous time and the best course of action.

That makes for a queasy form of moral suspense, especially when cool, calculatin­g Ines — exquisitel­y played by Cléau — is there to keep her husband focused with the cutting assessment, “Fear makes you mediocre.” The movie exists, after all, in a rarefied world where our main character, in one scene, primes the patronage of the junta’s more well-to-do supporters. And there are none more unnerving than a steelyeyed monsignor (a great Pablo Torre Nilson) who speaks of buying and selling stocks with the same matter-of-factness as when he refers to parasites who need to be eradicated, “even in the best of families.”

To the less patient viewer, the lack of clarity on the finer points of high finance and characters’ background­s and not getting period-orienting news updates about the political situation, might seem confoundin­g. But “Azor” works without them, because those details would only disrupt the artfully portentous chill Fontana gets from the pitch-perfect performanc­es and design, and Gabriel Sandru’s cinematogr­aphy — reminiscen­t of the great ‘70s cinematogr­apher Gordon Willis’ work — which uses crisp, straightfo­rward compositio­ns to render certain spaces of privilege and power as eternally, blithely stagnant.

These are Yvan’s people, however, and as this damning portrait of private banking reveals, he’s ready to navigate them as enterprisi­ngly in the worst of times as he would in the best of times.

 ?? Mubi ?? STÉPHANIE CLÉAU and Fabrizio Rongione, who play wife and husband, find a lot of questions while in Argentina searching for answers in the movie “Azor.”
Mubi STÉPHANIE CLÉAU and Fabrizio Rongione, who play wife and husband, find a lot of questions while in Argentina searching for answers in the movie “Azor.”

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