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The Schmooze

Friday Film: Directing and the Dirty War

A tragic event can provide a filmmaker with compelling material for a movie, but simply presenting calamity on the big screen doesn’t necessarily result in a good story. In director Fabian Hofman’s semi-autobiographical “I Miss You” (“Te Extraño”), which screened in November at the Boston Jewish Film Festival and will be shown on January 22 and 23 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, he comes close to making this mistake.

“I Miss You” is about a Jewish family coping with the disappearance of their eldest son, Adrian, during Argentina’s military dictatorship in the 1970s. Fearing for the life of their second son, 15-year-old Javier, the parents send Javier to live with his aunt and uncle in Mexico until some degree of stability is restored back home. During his time away, Javier vacillates between despair over the needless loss of his brother and the impulse to join the remaining members of a resistance group, the Montoneros, to seek revenge.

This may sound like a promising political thriller mixed with a healthy dose of existential anguish, but the film itself is quite slow. For much of the movie’s 96-minutes, Javier is shown sulking in bed, staring out of windows, or nearly getting hit by traffic after walking absent-mindedly into the street.

Fabian makes sure to add scenes of gun-toting men in army uniforms storming a public bus to underscore the larger context of political unrest and of a young revolutionary polishing his pistol with a half-empty bottle of hard liquor by his side to reveal the inner-turmoil of Argentina’s citizens, but these seem like tacked-on staples of the genre, rather than elements of superb storytelling.

In one scene, Javier and his new girlfriend visit the pyramids at Teotihuacan near Mexico City. Again, Fabian seems to believe that these magnificent structures will add gravity to his film merely by being present, but they are more of a missed opportunity, or just lazy writing. In “I Miss You,” the pyramids aren’t an integral part of the narrative, or even a metaphor for strength, endurance and stability. Fabian’s use of the pyramids is similar to Hollywood’s use of the Eiffel Tower in a movie set in Paris.

The costumes and props, however, are excellent, with only the Mexican uncle’s haircut and mustache approaching parody, like something from “This Is Spinal Tap.” The cinematography is also a marvel, with many shots capable of standing alone as stunning photographs.

In the end, it’s Javier’s responsibility as a good citizen to prevent his brother’s death from being forgotten or denied, while it’s Fabian’s responsibility as a good filmmaker to prevent the atrocities in Argentina from being uninteresting to modern viewers. For both character and director complacency is the easy choice, but it is also the wrong one.

Watch the trailer for ‘I Miss You’:

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