Hostage of an Illusion (Rehén de Ilusiones): Film Review

May/October passion is even trickier than usual in pensive Argentine drama

Eliseo Subiela comes to Montréal with two features -- this and "Vanishing Landscapes."

MONTREAL — A literary brainteaser in which solving the mystery doesn't seem to be the point, Eliseo Subiela's Hostage of an Illusion offers a moody variation on the familiar aging writer/young student amour fou. Atmospheric without affectation, the Argentine film could attract a modest audience at arthouses.

Upfront with its cues that we should take nothing at face value, the film shows aging author Pablo (Daniel Fanego) beset by a horde of imaginary fans thrusting stories he should tell in his face. Ignoring them, he sits at his computer and types a few words. Whether what we see next is his story or his life is something even he seems unsure of.

Having seen Pablo on TV ten years after being his student, Laura (Romina Ricci) manufactures an excuse to meet him in the private writing studio he maintains away from home. Soon the dark-eyed, soft-fleshed thirtysomething is offering herself to the professor she was once infatuated with. Not believing his luck, the married Pablo begins an affair.

Before long, though, Laura's behavior grows strange. She taunts soldiers at the military base across from her apartment, dancing half-naked on the balcony; she shows up for an opening at Pablo's wife's art gallery. If the latter act suggests a Fatal Attraction direction for the film, it's a false alarm: Laura's mental health issues threaten herself more than others, and Pablo must decide how involved to get -- a more complicated question, once he starts getting calls from Laura's father.

Throughout, Subiela reminds us to wonder what's real and what's imagined. But he delights in making the question too tricky to parse: We know Pablo has a history of basing characters on lovers, but does he also invent new lovers via fiction? And would such a lover sadly ask him when he's going to turn their relationship into a novel? Why would his wife suspect him of an affair if he's actually in his studio fantasizing all day -- or are his interactions with her also part of the tale?

Subiela's quiet, melancholy tone discourages us from getting too worked up about these questions. The real subject, it's clear, is a man's need to keep his soul alive even as his body starts to fail him. In fiction as in life, it's a challenge that can sneak up on you.


Production Companies: Producciones Audiovisuales SRL, Orgón Films

Cast: Daniel Fanego, Romina Ricci, Mónica Gonzaga, Gustavo Jalife, Ricardo Merkin, Atilio Pozzobon, Corina Romero, Claudio Torres

Director-Screenwriter-Production designer: Eliseo Subiela

Producers: Daniel Pensa, Miguel Ángel Rocca

Director of photography: Sebastián Galo

Music: Osvaldo Montes

Costume designer: Romina Cariola

Editor: Marcela Saenz

No rating, 85 minutes