Best Laid Plans: Piterbarg Gets Double the Mortensen in Debut
Argentinean director Ana Piterbarg nabs Viggo Mortensen for dual roles in her debut, a slow burn identity thriller, Everybody Has a Plan. Mortensen, having appeared in three previous Spanish speaking features, is a fellow countryman of Piterbarg, having spent his childhood in Argentina. The resulting collaboration may be disappointing to some, as this is a simmering, psychological thriller that banks mostly on constant discomfort and a slowly building menace that permeates the narrative, but this only serves to make the film a unique, fascinating, noir-tinged exercise in the swamps.
Agustin (Mortensen) stars as a doctor in Buenos Aires, who we quickly learn is in a floundering marriage with Claudia (Soledad Villamil). They are about to adopt a baby, something that Claudia is apparently passionate about, a plan that has been gestating for some time. But it turns out that Agustin really doesn’t share the same stock in Claudia’s plan, and when he informs her of this, it throws her into a tailspin and she asks him to leave the apartment. Lost in a sort of stupor, Agustin’s long estranged twin brother, Pedro, riddled with cancer, pays him an unexpected visit. Pedro lives in their childhood home in Tigre, a swampy, isolated area where he harvests honey with the help of a young woman named Rosa (Sofia Gala) and engages in more nefarious activities like kidnapping schemes with cohorts Adrian (Daniel Fanego) and Ruben (Javier Godino). We first meet him attempting to transplant a new queen into a dying hive with Rosa. If there’s a defective queen, she has to be replaced for the colony to survive. But these transplants don’t always work.
While visiting, Agustin has an idea, which results in his assuming the identity of his dying brother in order to leave behind his posh, but stifling existence in the city. Once in Tigre, Agustin finds that moonlighting as Pedro is harder than he expected, especially with Rosa, with whom he shares immediate sexual tension. But it doesn’t help that Pedro had recently helped Adrian in a kidnapping gone wrong, a scenario which angered some of the locals and incidentally exposed Pedro’s involvement with Adrian, who has disappeared. Tensions quickly mount, and it doesn’t help that Agustin’s ex-wife comes snooping around for answers after discovering a cancer ridden corpse in her apartment. But perhaps most mystifying of all is Agustin’s insistence on parading as his brother while tensions mount. After all, what exactly was he running from in Buenos Aires?
Twin thrillers have long been a favorite mechanism in cinema. Cronenberg’s memorable Dead Ringers (1988) with Jeremy Irons and Olivia de Havilland in The Dark Mirrorr (1946) are two great examples. But Everybody Has a Plan utilizes a scenario that best recalls a Bette Davis vehicle she made, not once, but twice—A Stolen Life (1946) and Dead Ringer (1964), in which she assumes the identity of her dead sister, of course, with dire consequences (and don’t forget a Dolores Del Rio version of this Davis film, La Otra, also 1946). There’s something delightfully wicked and primal about being able to assume a new identity at will, which is why it worked so well for film noir purposes. Piterbarg’s debut is a neo noir exercise, a film which seems to have more psychological interests than as a thriller. We don’t get to see much of Mortensen as the ailing Pedro, and so he adopts a sort of observant, blank stare throughout the film, trying to gauge how he should act solely by the response of others. Wisely, we don’t know everything about Pedro, and so we must decipher the puzzle from Agustin’s POV, for we’re as much in the dark as he. But it’s impossible to fool everyone, and the very expressive Soledad Villamil (from 2009’s The Secret In Their Eyes) pops up for her best scene when she confirms what she was already thinking.
Every now and then Everybody Has a Plan has a startling twist, like a large object breaking the surface of the swamp, sending out rocking ripples and Lucio Bonelli’s camera work in the isolated Tigre mire evokes a fitting atmosphere. At nearly two hours, the film does feel a tad overextended, especially the closer we get to the inevitable showdown, but Piterbarg’s film is an exciting first feature, a complex character study. And though best laid plans may go awry, perhaps the worst crime is not having one at all.
Reviewed on September 10 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS Programme.