Dir: Lucia Cedron. Argentina/France/Chile. 2008. 91mins
First-time feature director Lucia Cedron makes an assured debut with Lamb Of God, a skillfully told and affecting tale which straddles the line between political thriller and family melodrama.

The elaborate flashback structure - the film is set in Argentina in 1978, when the country was still under the control of the military Junta, and in 2002, during the economic crisis - is initially disconcerting. It takes a moment or two to realise that we are watching the same characters at different points in their lives. In the long run, though, Cedron's subtle and richly layered storytelling style adds an emotional depth that a more conventional narrative would surely have lacked.

Lamb Of God opened the International Film Festival Rotterdam, a dubious honour given that few of Rotterdam's opening films have gone on to make a splash in the international marketplace. However, Cedron's debut feature looks set to buck that trend. This is a work that combines the quizzical and poetic observational style of Lucrecia Martel's The Swamp And The Holy Girl (with whom it shares producer Lita Stantic) with the intensity of Adrian Caetano's political drama Buenos Aires 1977 (which was snapped up by the Weinstein Company.) A long festival life looks assured. International distributors are also likely to be very curious about a film that should prove accessible to mainstream audiences.

Cedron is the daughter of Jorge 'the tiger' Cedron, a well-known film-maker in 1970s Argentina who decamped to Europe to escape the military Junta and who died in suspicious circumstances in Paris in 1980. Her screenplay for Lamb Of God may not be directly autobiographical but it clearly draws heavily on her own family's experiences.

This is a story about two disappearances a quarter of a century apart that rupture a family's life. In 1978, shortly before the football World Cup in Argentina, journalist and political activist Paco (Minujin) is living in fear of the military regime. He is devoted to his wife Teresa (Morán) and 6-year-old daughter, Guillermina. In 2002, with Argentina's economy in freefall, Paco's father-in-law, the avuncular vet Arturo (Marrale), is kidnapped and held to ransom. Guillermina, now a young woman (Balcarce), can't understand her mother Teresa's seeming reluctance to raise the ransom money. Gradually, it becomes apparent that Teresa suspects Arturo may have had something to do with Paco's death all those years before.

Cedron switches between the two periods in lyrical and inventive fashion. Often, the transitions are so subtle that we take a moment or two to register that we have traveled back or forward in time. She also often gives a child's eye view of events. The six-year-old Guillermina may sing nursery songs about prisons but she doesn't realise the threat that her father is under. Nor is she aware that the rich man whose horses her grandfather (a vet) tends is one of the fascists. Only many years later, after the kidnapping, does she begin to understand fully just why there are such rifts in her family.

The discussion of politics is kept to a minimum. We hear Paco complaining that Argentina is spending so much on the World Cup at a time when its educational system and health service are so over-stretched, but this is one of the few moments in which the Junta is referred to directly.

Cedron refuses to judge her characters. Taking her cue from the famous line in Jean Renoir's Rules Of The Game ('You know, in this world there's one thing that's terrible, that everyone has their reasons'), she instead tries to hint at why they have behaved as they have done. She is helped by a nuanced and powerful performance from Morán as Teresa, the chain-smoking, now middle-aged woman still trying to come to terms with the loss of Paco all those years before. There is humour, too, not least in the frequent shots of Guillermina desperately trying to find her cellphone in the depths of her bag so she can take the next call from her grandfather's kidnappers.

Lamb Of God is evocatively (if sometimes self-consciously) shot by Guillermo Nieto. There are lots of anguished close-ups or sequences of the protagonists looking mournfully out of windows. The happy family scenes are juxtaposed with the brutal imagery of Teresa after she has been arrested or of the wounded political activist reduced to taking a cyanide tablet. Cedron uses some manipulative thriller-style devices - tape recordings from years before, children's toys with totemic significance. In the end, though, her real interest is in digging into character and memory, not in providing some glib final reel pay-off that will explain everything away.

Production companies/backers
Lita Stantic Producciones (Argentina)
Les Films D'Ici (France)

International sales
Lita Stantic Producciones
(54) 11 4775 8400

Lita Stantic

Screen play
Lucia Cedron
Santiago Giralt
Thomas Philipon

Guillermo Nieto

Rosario Suarez

Sebastian Escofet

Main cast
Mercedes Morán
Jorge Marrale
Leonora Balcarce
Malena Solda
Juan Minujin