Movie review: This agonizingly slow action drama about an atrocity and an enigmatic avenger in Argentina’s rain forest clumsily recalls Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West.” Rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.
Call “Ardor” an empanada Western: an Argentine echo of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti take on Old West mythology.
Leone, the late Italian director, famously created a European genre of the American Western. His 1968 masterpiece, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” is an operatic, almost mystical epic about anti-heroes, robber barons, villainy, revenge and redemption set against a 19th-century wild frontier vanishing beneath the advance of a modern country.
The film’s climactic duel — alternating intense close-ups with breathtaking wide shots; haunting memories with present-moment suspense — is one of the most thrilling scenes in all of cinema.
Movie Review ★½
‘Ardor,’ with Gail Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga, Claudio Tolcachir, Chico Diaz. Written and directed by Pablo Fendrik. 110 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexuality. In Spanish, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
It helps to know all this to have some clue as to what’s going on in “Ardor,” which is so heavily influenced by “Once Upon a Time” it often makes little sense on its own.
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Set in Argentina’s rain-forest jungle, “Ardor” is similarly about a disappearing way of life. A group of armed desperadoes is terrorizing tobacco farmers into giving up their land.
When one farmer is brutally killed and his daughter, Vania (Alice Braga), is taken, a mysterious figure named Kai (Gail Garcia Bernal) — as enigmatic and laconic as Charles Bronson in “Once Upon,” though far too movie-star handsome for this role — comes to the rescue. As much a creature of the jungle as the free-range tiger that repeatedly pops up in this story, Kai takes on the villains stealthily.
Unlike “Once Upon,” the problem with “Ardor” is forced style over substance. Co-writer and director Pablo Fendrik strains for sumptuous visuals and atmosphere in a way that recalls those long, still moments in a Leone film when you just know something is about to happen.
But “Ardor” evokes no such sense of anticipation. Much of this movie is bewilderingly slow, while the big action scenes are mostly unbelievable. When Fendrik inevitably recreates that duel from “Once Upon,” it just looks like — and is, in fact — a poor man’s homage to a thing of beauty.