Dir:Tristan Bauer. Arg. 2005. 100mins.
Sometimesa film has more value as a national pain relief than as a quality piece ofcinema. Such is certainly the case with Enlightened By Fire, the firstArgentine commercial film to take on the subject of the Falklands/Malvinas war,and to deal with the traumas of the young conscripts who were packed off tofight there.
Cuttingrather unimaginatively between the attempted suicide of a Falklands vet inBuenos Aires during the 2001 economic crisis and his former soldier companion'smemories of the 1982 war, the film presses all the sentimental buttons in itsdefence of the 18-year-old kids who were sent to die by the country's corruptpoliticians.
InArgentina, the film had a strong opening weekend earlier this month, takingfirst place just ahead of Cinderella Man. But competition from thatother big local film of the autumn season, Fabien Bielinsky's El Aura,will shorten its box office trajectory after a media-fuelled take-off.
Inthe UK its not so much its questions over the UK's rights to the islands thatwill limit its distribution as its lapses into the Kleenex zone, and the factthat the film is clearly designed as a specifically Argentine purgative.
Elsewhere,Enlightened By Fire will probably do a duty tour of Latin America anddrum up some interest in Spain on the back of its European premiere at SanSebastian, where the film was politely received.
EnlightenedBy Fire isbased on the war memoirs of journalist Edgardo Esteban, who had just finishedschool and was doing his military service when he was called up to fight in theislands east of the Argentine mainland.
EdgardoEsteban becomes Esteban Leguizamon (Gaston Pauls), a journalist who is rung upone evening by the distraught wife (Virginia Innocenti) of Vargas, one of thetwo soldier-friends he shared a foxhole with on the Falklands. Esteban rushesto the hospital to find Vargas in a coma after a suicide attempt; we alreadyknow, thanks to a helpful opening caption, that more Falklands vets have diedby suicide since the end of the conflict than actually died in combat on theislands. Cue a flood of long-suppressed memories, which now become the mainfocus of the film.
Filmedin Patagonia, the war scenes are more about the waiting, the fear, the extremecold and hunger, and the sadism of these homesick conscripts' commandingofficers, than about actual battle. The three friends reminisce about lovedones, and when the rations get too inedible they steal and barbecue a sheep;the ringleader is staked out on the ground in the pouring rain as punishment.
Afew scraps of news footage (including a familiar clip of Margaret Thatcher witha bazooka) are spliced into the action, but mostly we have to get by on theunderdeveloped character studies of this three way buddy act and Javier Julia'sgritty photography, which contrasts the mud-soaked misery of the soldiers'makeshift camp with the rugged natural grandeur all around.
Thebattle scenes, when they finally come, are surprisingly gutsy, with handheldnight photography bringing out the utter confusion that reigned during theground attack.
Acoda, actually filmed on the islands, has Esteban going back to the Falklandsafter Vargas' death to seek some kind of emotional closure. But by now thescript's dramatic gas tank has run dry, and the director has to siphon in adose of sentiment by deploying a couple of schmaltzy protest ballads bysinger-songwriter Leon Gieco, that are strictly for home consumption.
Avoice-over lambasts the "treachery" of those Argentine leaders and generals whoused the war to drum up patriotism even while they "tortured their own people",but at the same time the film makes it clear that the vast majority ofArgentines still do not accept British sovereignty over the islands.
Centro de Produccion Audiovisuel de la Universidad Nacional de San Martin
Gustavo Romero Borri
based on the book of the same name by Esteban and Borri
Federico Bonasso with songs by Leon Gieco
Victor Hugo Carrizo