by Adam Davis, contributing blogger
Aballay, el hombre sin miedo, the latest film from director Fernando Spiner, is a classic Western with a modern look on revenge. Replete with stagecoaches, gunfights on horseback, and lingering shots of cacti-covered hills, the film is evocative of a long lost era in both the history of man and the history of cinema. Aballay is not simply a gratuitous shoot ’em up, as one might stereotype the Western genre. Instead, it delves into the psychology of revenge and atonement to provide a deeper look into the violence and grit that the genre is known for. (And it also shows off Tucumán Province as the ideal Western location–Empanada Westerns, anyone?)
The movie begins when a group of rogue gauchos attack a stagecoach carrying a young boy and his father. They unceremoniously murder the father while the boy, Julián, looks on hiding from underneath a seat. When one of the gauchos, Aballay (Pablo Cedrón), discovers Julián hiding, he stares knowingly at the boy for a minute before something inside him compels him to leave young Julián alone.
Ten years later, Julián (Nazareno Casero) arrives in the desert town of La Malaria carrying charcoal sketches of the men who killed his father and intent on getting revenge. He befriends a local farmhand, Juana (Moro Anghileri), who tells him about the town’s saint, a man who rides around on horseback, his benevolence matched only by his mystery. When El Muerto (Claudio Rissi), the violent man who holds the entire town under his sway, attacks Julián, Juana brings him to the saint to recovery. Of course, the Saint is actually Aballay, who has spent the last ten years attempting to repent for his life as a murderous gaucho.
It is in the relationship between Julián and Aballay, in the second half of the film, that Aballay really finds itself. As the identity of the other gradually dawns on both of them, the two characters must grapple with questions of honor, family, and the past that brings them together. Staring into each other’s eyes as they did in the stagecoach so many years ago, Casero and especially Cedrón bring an emotional weight to this simple glance.
Aside from the slightly miscast Casero, who never seems quite fully able to imbue his character’s body language and facial expressions with the character’s long-held desire for revenge (and especially not before the action with El Muerto and Aballay picks up) the rest of the actors do a fine job bringing the appropriate gravitas to their characters throughout the proceedings. And, speaking of characters, one cannot forget the majestic mountains and deserts of Tucumán, where the film was shot, which becomes a character in and of itself. The staggering beauty of the dusty desert plains, the full moon illuminating rugged mountain peaks – the panoramic vistas of these locales bring the Tucumán countryside to life.
Even if you are not a fan of the Western genre, the movie is worth seeing if only for the grandiose magnificence of Tucumán’s landscape. But, if you are willing to put aside your preconceived notions about the genre and allow the film to stand on its own, you will enjoy it so much more.