Crossing a Shadow

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Argos Producciones

PALM SPRINGS -- "Crossing a Shadow," the story of a visionary engineer in early 20th century Peru, must have strong personal significance to filmmaker Augusto Tamayo. His feature is an adaptation of his father's novel about a member of their family, and the saga's historical sweep is shaped by cultural and technological flashpoints for the nation.

But from its voice-over narration to its carnal couplings, family drama and scientific adventures, this would-be epic plays out as more than two hours of inflection-free incident. Peru's foreign-language Oscar submission, which recently screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, is a stolid romance as history lesson in which the sense of history and romance are described but rarely felt.

The story centers on Enrique Aet (Diego Bertie), the eldest child of a well-to-do Lima family whose engineer father died in 1886 when Enrique was a teen. Twenty-one years later, he has followed his father's calling and heads a road project into the Amazonian jungle, the goal being nothing less than to unite the country. Even the collapse of a bridge in a flood feels prosaic -- though brought to the screen in undistinguished visuals.

Bertie conveys the character's self-absorption and emotional reserve -- qualities that might have more power if others didn't so precisely comment on them. Everything about the protagonist and the push of national progress is spelled out in authorial commentary posing as dialogue. The split between Enrique the individualist and his passionate brother, Oswaldo (Gonzalo Molina) -- who rejects the family's bourgeois comfort to devote himself to left-wing politics and the textile workers' union -- might have been real but is as two-dimensional as everything else in the film. When, late in the story, Enrique catches a glimpse of the jungle beauty (Nidia Bermejo) who once loved him unconditionally, a pang of regret registers as the film's most resonant moment.

By the time Enrique is spearheading the project that will bring radio communication between the capital and Iquitos, in the rainforest, the story's intriguing ideas and intended melodrama have been all but undone by flat pacing. The audience's disconnection is likely to be as complete as the main character's.
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