Review of El Ardor, Argentina’s Jungle Western

By Benjamín Harguindey

Gael García Bernal stars and produces El Ardor.

Gael García Bernal stars and produces El Ardor.

The Ardor (El Ardor) spawns from Argentina’s National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) and Brazil’s National Cinema Agency (ANCINE) renewed Film/Audiovisual Co-production Agreement, which produces two movies a year since 2011.

The director is Argentinian Pablo Fendrik, whose Blood Appears (La sangre brota) won at the 61° Cannes Film Festival and whose latest movie has enjoyed similar acclaim together with a whole slew of Argentine movies at Cannes this year, chief among them being Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes).

Set in the jungle of Misiones, Argentina and shot entirely on location, the movie is a regional spin on the Western genre: it tells the pretty straightforward story of the gang of bad guys (led by Claudio Tolcachir) who are after the deeds of this one ranch, and of the native good guy (Gael García Bernal) who’s out to avenge the rancher’s murder and rescue his daughter/damsel in distress (Alice Braga).

Gael García Bernal and Alice Braga.

Gael García Bernal and Alice Braga.

The movie is beautifully shot and composed and plays out exactly as promised by the tenets of the genre: you get your dose of brawls, shootouts, campfires, some paltry romance and the obligatory final duel, which isn’t nearly as epic as it’s built up to be. The film is obviously counting on its exotic appeal for originality; otherwise it eschews any form of suspense or surprise and sticks to formula filmmaking.

There’s some token mysticism involving our hero praying for divine assistance like his ancestors of old and so on, but we never go into much detail about it. We just get a couple of ritualistic scenes and then the movie kind of forgets about it until the very end, when our hero exchanges a meaningful stare with the jaguar that has been roaming ominously throughout. It’s a deceptively complex moment. Nothing else in the movie suggests this is anything other than the straightest of Western flicks with a faint local twist.

The Ardor is one of those movies you can trust at face value – it delivers as promised. There’s nothing particularly memorable about it but it won’t shortchange you either. In a world where Westerns are scarce overall, this one is welcome.

The movie premieres September 4 in Argentina.

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