Dir: Marcelo Pineyro. Argentina-Spain, 2002. 104m.

Argentina's selection for the foreign-language Oscar, Kamchatka has good worldwide potential for arthouse and foreign-language theatres thanks to hot lead actor Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, The Son Of The Bride) and universal themes of family, childhood, love and loss. A heartfelt, intelligent and well-intentioned film with historical depth, Kamchatka would work equally well on the festival circuit. Buena Vista has taken Euros 286,309 (pesos 1,022,757) since its October 17 premiere in Argentina, where it remains up on 51 screens. Hispano Fox will release the title in Spain on November 29. No international sales agent is yet attached but Kamchatka is understood to be eliciting buyer interest already.

Proving the adage that all politics is personal, director Pineyro uses a single family to paint an intimate portrayal of the menacing early days of Argentina's 1976 military coup. The tale is narrated by ten year-old Harry (excellent del Pozo), plucked out of school, along with his younger brother - affectionately known as "the midget" (de la Canal), and whisked away to a rural hideaway. Having witnessed the disappearance of dissident friends, their parents (Darin and Roth) are fleeing persecution by the new regime. "We want to be together, the four of us for as long as we can," Darin's Papa explains to his own father (veteran Alterio, in a supporting role). They eventually take in Lucas (strong up-and-comer Fonzi), another young man on the run who slowly befriends the sulking Harry.

The family which Pineyro and co-scripter Marcelo Figueras (Burnt Money) create is genuine, endearing and full of rich, real-to-life details such as the midget's bedwetting and Harry's telling infatuation with escape artist Houdini. Harry's encounters with nature in both its most awe-inspiring (shooting stars) and brutal (dying animals) moments are symbolic, as is the board game he plays with his father, which eventually reveals the deeper meaning behind the film's title.

Pineyro clearly intends for viewers to get as caught up in the day-to-day as the characters themselves, forgetting or ignoring - however temporarily - the dreaded finale foreshadowed in opening scenes. Two factors contribute to this: first, the episodic structure of the narrative - the fact that many scenes make no mention of (and could work independently from) the broader historical subtext; and second, the clever positioning of the young boy as protagonist, still largely innocent to the political upheaval which has turned his family's life upside-down.

Less patient viewers might have benefited from more constant reminders of the tale's historical background and anticipated outcome, particularly during the slower second half. Nevertheless, without this careful build-up the film's painfully sad closing scene wouldn't reach the same emotional depths.

Bingen Mendizabal's (Secrets Of The Heart) musical score floats smoothly around the emotional rhythms of the tale, while veteran DP Alfredo Mayo (Mondays In The Sun) beautifully transmits an undercurrent of gloom with a palate of greys, greens and browns. The 1970s setting is subtly captured in the background details.

Curiously, star Darin takes second stage in Kamchatka to Roth (All About My Mother). Her "Mama" is the emotional focus of the family, the seeming decision-maker and default bread-winner. Roth imbues the character with strength and maternal warmth, simultaneously conveying a credible sensitivity which reveals the pain and fear bubbling just beneath her resolute exterior.

Prod Cos: Patagonik, OK Films, Alquimia Cinema, Mikado Films
Prods: Pablo Bossi, Oscar Kramer, Francisco Ramos.
Distrib (Arg): Buena Vista Internacional
Scr: Marcelo Figueras, Marcelo Pineyro.
DoP: Alfredo F. Mayo.
Prod des: Jorge Ferrari, Juan Mario Roust.
Ed: Juan Carlos Macias.
Music: Bingen Mendizabal.
Main cast: Ricardo Darin, Cecilia Roth, Matias del Pozo, Milton de la Canal, Tomas Fonzi, Hector Alterio, Fernanda Mistral