‘The Candidate’ (‘El Candidato’): Film Review | Miami 2017

Courtesy of Cordon Films
Off-kilter and on-target, but it pulls its punches.

Daniel Hendler’s satire on the hollowness of contemporary politics won the best director prize at the recent Miami festival.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The titular candidate of high-profile Argentinean actor/director Daniel Hendler’s second feature is a white, slightly overweight, middle-aged, super-wealthy businessman who wants to be president. Which gives the wry, low-key satire The Candidate the instant advantage of the now — but, in a world of fake news, alternative facts and hacked social media accounts, there’s also the feeling that it’s been taken over by real events. That said, this remains a mordantly witty take on a thoroughly contemporary issue, a glimpse into a behind-the-scenes reality everyone knows exists and which is here engagingly and perceptively rendered. Further festival exposure is likeliest.

The action unfolds on the extensive (and well-lensed) country estate of businessman Martin Marchand (Diego de Paula), who’s being groomed there for political success, though apparently without quite knowing why. A team has been pulled together to work up a campaign ad out of nothing for this designer politico: headed by Laura (Ana Katz), it includes characters ranging from the fresh-faced graphic designer Mateo (Argentinian musician Matias Singer, the director’s younger brother), with whom Martin strongly identifies, to the slightly sinister Enrique F (Cesar Troncoso) and housekeeper Gabriel (Jose Luis Arias), an oblique take on Mrs Danvers.

Broadly, the first part of the film shows the team comically trying to create an image for Martin: It quickly becomes clear that the wannabe politician, whose party doesn’t even have a name yet and who seems obsessed by Hollywood movie stars, is a cipher who the team is trying to fill with meaning. “I’d rather be extremely left-wing or right-wing than in the center” is about as close as Martin, who in one comic scene is shown quite literally trying to find his voice, comes to expressing his political opinion. But as Enrique says, that’s not important — what matters is that Martin learns to "move like a congressman."

Any thriller-ish expectations which the early scenes might set up are quickly dissipated by the leisurely pace: The Candidate is carefully observant rather than drama-focused, and perhaps its strongest suit is the creeping atmosphere of unease which trickles into many of the scenes, conveyed via dialogues in which much of what is said is veiled. Its strongest sequences feature some wonderfully played, wonderfully photographed and wonderfully eloquent reaction shots, adding up to an acidic portrait of an unhealthily paranoid little world. If Hendler won his Miami Film Festival best director award for anything, it’s probably for the extreme nuancing of his direction of the actors, whose performances are unfailingly fine.

Audiences with, say, House of Cards on their minds might be forgiven for wondering why The Candidate is so benign in its view of what, if Martin goes on to achieve his presidential ambitions, will probably turn out to be a deeply cynical abuse of power. It feels as though the political anger that may have sparked the project was at some point overtaken and diluted by Hendler’s curiosity.

Later on, it’s revealed that the sound man (Roberto Suarez) has been secretly recording private conversations: Betrayal enters the plot and the drama steps up a gear. But with it is lost much of the subtle observation, the hallmark of a film which, though sharp-eyed, is perhaps too forgiving towards the political realities which now threaten us.

Production companies: HC Films, Cordon Films, Oficina Burman
Cast: Diego de Paula, Matias Singer, Ana Katz, Jose Luis Arias, ALan Sabbagh
Director-screenwriter: Daniel Hendler
Producers: Micaela Sole, Daniel Hendler, Daniel Burman, Hernan Guerschuny, Pablo Udenio
Director of photography: Lucio Bonelli
Production designer: Mariana Pereira
Costume designer: Nicole Davrieux
Editor: Andres Tamborrino
Composer: Matias Siner
Venue: Miami Film Festival (Knight Competition)
Sales: Cordon Films

84 minutes