'The Mystery of Happiness' ('El Misterio de la Felicidad'): Bergen Review

Courtesy of Bergen International Film Festival
A light mystery about following your bliss

A vanished man's wife and business partner both realize they only half-knew him

Business is a deeper bond than marriage in The Mystery of Happiness, Daniel Burman's wistful comedy about a man coping with the sudden, apparently voluntary, disappearance of his lifelong partner. Agreeably middlebrow and more imaginative than the Argentinean’s last offering in US theaters, 2012's commitment-minded love story All In, it has limited appeal for English-speaking art house auds (Strand has taken U.S. rights), though Spanish speakers and festivalgoers in search of light fare should respond well. A release in its home country was Burman's highest-grossing outing there to date.

Liquid-eyed Guillermo Francella is the pic's heart as Santiago, who for decades has lived in symmetry with Eugenio (Fabian Arenillas): An opening sequence finds the partners not only driving to work and clocking in together, but coordinating barber visits and bowel movements. A rare disagreement arises when two young businessmen offer to buy their well-established household electronics store ElectrAmigo: Eugenio is ready to cash in, while Santiago sees the offer as inspiration to expand the business themselves. Before they've responded to the proposal, Eugenio disappears without a trace.

If this weren't worrisome enough for Santiago, who looks like a puppy whose owner ducked into a coffee shop during their walk and never came out, things get worse: Eugenio's wife, Laura (Ines Estevez, doing well with a character whose pill-popping and pushiness are too broadly drawn), shows up at the store behaving as if, in his absence, it's her job to make sure the sale happens and she gets her cut.

But Laura wants to know what happened to Eugenio too, and teams with Santiago in a mismatched-detectives effort. She hires an eccentric retired P.I. (Alejandro Awada, milking the role), who dispenses cryptic advice instead of doing the legwork himself and takes his payment in extravagant meals at his favorite Indian restaurant.

Wife and partner warm up to each other as it becomes clear that Santiago didn't know his platonic soulmate quite as well as he thought. Burman and Sergio Dubcovsky's script goes easy on the surprises, and the ultimate nature of Eugenio's disappearance is easily guessed early on; the investigation is a pleasant ice-breaker for the two characters, though. The growing chemistry between Francella and Estevez is more friendly than romantic, making third-act developments less satisfying than they might have been. What works well, though, is the way Santiago comes to terms with his nostalgic vision of a lifelong friendship that he never really understood until it was over.

Production company: BD Cine

Cast: Guillermo Francella, Fabian Arenillas, Ines Estevez, Alejandro Awada

Director: Daniel Burman

Screenwriters: Daniel Burman, Sergio Dubcovsky

Producers: Walkiria Barbosa, Daniel Burman, Diego Dubcovsky

Executive producer: Jimena Blanco

Director of photography: Daniel Sebastian Ortega

Production designer: Margarita Tamborino

Costume designer: Roberta Pesci

Editor: Luis Barros

Casting director: Alejandra Uz

No rating, 98 minutes

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