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The Summit (2017)
La Cordillera

Directed by Santiago Mitre

2 stars

Argentinian President Hernán Blanco (Ricardo Darín) heads to Chile for a summit that aims to establish a Latin American oil producers’ cartel. In a mountain-top hotel, the South American presidents meet, negotiate and conspire. Whose strategy will prevail: feisty, combative Mexico? Brazil – the big beast in the room? Or will it be the unseen, uninvited USA?

Blanco, recently elected underdog, understated and now under pressure as an old scandal threatens to surface, appears at first to be the model of a humble, honest man. He seems happy to listen to those who want to bend his ear while having little strategy, and little visible interest, of his own.

Perhaps he’s too preoccupied with the looming scandal launched by the not-quite ex-husband of his daughter (Dolores Fonzi). Once she turns up at the summit, carrying baggage only of the psychological kind, the story switches to her trauma. First she hurls a chair through a hotel window, then she becomes temporarily mute, and (not quite finally) declares under hypnosis that daddy once killed a man and burned his house.

Nonsense, says the president. Nonsense, we echo, though not in the way the filmmakers presumably hoped.

The abruptness and duration of this switch in the plot is just one of many problems besetting this production. It’s often unforgivably slow: an early roving shot through the executive offices in Buenos Aires reminds one of a scene from the West Wing on sedatives. The depiction of the executive branch of a modern, large democracy feels un-realistic: the Argentinian entourage, and indeed the whole summit, seem very underpopulated (at one point, the President of Chile appears to be taking the minutes of the meeting); and the ease with which a key member of the summit can absent himself to spend time with his daughter in hospital or, later, pop off to Santiago for a clandestine meeting with a hiss-boo Yankee played by Christian Slater doesn’t seem plausible.

There’s a portentousness about the film that is underlined by the tag-lines on at least three versions of posters that were produced for the movie: “Evil exists”, “The past exists”; “Power exists”. At times it almost aspired to be channelling a Shakespearian tragedy. But which one? Initially, it’s Othello: is one of his lieutenants plotting to undermine him? Perhaps it’s Julius Caesar, and they’re ALL going to stab him. Then the plot heads off in a different direction, and it’s “Out, damned spot” as Macbeth’s past deeds come back to haunt him. But then the tone switches again, and his daughter’s accusations make it a cross between Hamlet and The Godfather: Part II (1974), with Connie Corleone accusing Michael of murdering her husband.

Too many clues are laid, too many possibilities presented, but the big reveal never happens. At several points, the film almost seems to be saying that it’s Present Blanco who is the delusional one, wilfully forgetting past sins. But it lacks the clarity and precision to carry this off. A fine cast, good acting and some splendid cinematography can’t disguise or compensate for the faults in structure, storytelling, realism and editing. Disappointing.

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