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Argentinian Westerns are not brand new, but it’s still fun to see Hollywood archetypes replayed gaucho-style. Alballay, this year’s Oscar submission from Argentina, is a diverting variation on the genre, but since even American Westerns are struggling at the box office, there’s no reason to expect much of an audience for this darkly violent tale.
The movie opens with a scene familiar from almost a century of Westerns: A stagecoach traveling through rugged terrain is attacked by a savage band of outlaws. As a young boy hides in the coach, he sees the leader of the gang slit his father’s throat. Ten years later the boy, Julien (Nazareno Casero), has grown into a handsome, sullen outsider determined to take revenge against his father’s killers. The murderer, Alballay (Pablo Cedron), has renounced violence in the intervening years, but he is haunted by the killing and realizes that a reckoning will have to be paid. Julien eventually tracks down all his enemies, though a beautiful woman he meets, Juana (Moro Anghileri), tries to dissuade him from his obsessive quest for revenge.
The same story was a mainstay of many Westerns like The Bravadosand Nevada Smith, and the filmmaking style clearly owes a debt to Peckinpah. Still, those are respectable models to emulate, and director Fernando Spiner shows a flair for the genre. The desolate locations are sharply photographed by Claudio Beiza, and the haunting musical score by Gustavo Pomeranec has welcome echoes of Ennio Morricone, another composer who helped to re-invent the Western outside America.
Playing a single-minded character bent on revenge, Casero gives a fairly one-note performance, but Cedron captures the conflicted nature of a bad guy longing to lay down his guns, and Claudio Rissi brings sinister energy to the role of the unrepentant villain of the piece. Although the movie is well made and pleasing to fans of the genre, the story is ultimately too simplistic to keep us fully engaged.
Cast: Pablo Cedron, Nazareno Casero, Claudio Rissi, Moro Anghileri, Luis Ziembrowski, Horacio Fontova, Gabriel Goity.
Director: Fernando Spiner.
Screenwriters: Fernando Spiner, Javier Diment, Santiago Hadida.
Based on the book by: Antonio Di Benedetto.
Producers: Eduardo Carneros, Javier Ibarretxe, Fernando Spiner.
Executive producer: Pablo Salomon.
Director of photography: Claudio Beiza.
Production designer: Sandra Iurcovich.
Music: Gustavo Pomeranec.
Costume designer: Gabriela Gonzalez.
Editor: Alejandro Parysow.
No rating, 100 minutes.
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