HIFF Review: A Tense Nighttime Odyssey in Buenos Aires

Although “The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis,” did not win one of the Hamptons International Film Festival’s awards, its tense noir-ish atmosphere is one worth seeking out, should it receive United States distribution. It opens in its native Argentina in September.

The film has a seemingly straightforward premise. Set in Argentina in 1977 during a military dictatorship, the film follows a middle-aged office worker who is asked by a long-ago friend to warn two complete strangers that they will be taken by the secret police that evening. If he refuses, he will abandon two people to disappearance and a probable death. If he is caught acting on the information, he risks losing being taken from his wife and two adoring children.

Francisco, played by Diego Velazquez, who has just failed to receive a long-awaited promotion, delivers that news to his wife but doesn’t mention what he has been asked to do. Before dinner, he goes out to get a bottle of wine, and then begins a taut odyssey on the dark, almost deserted streets of Buenos Aires.

While waiting for the shopkeeper, he asks two passersby for a light. When the lighter doesn’t work, he starts to follow another couple, one of whom has a cigarette. But instead of approaching them, he inexplicably follows them through interminable, desolate blocks, the only sound that of his footsteps. The couple seems about to start running or to confront him, but they just disappear.

At one point he meets a friend at a bar, and the lively atmosphere provides a stark, if brief, interlude before his return to the streets. He searches for, finds, then loses Lucho, someone whose role in Francisco’s past is never explained. He then boards a bus to the destination he had been given, is dropped in the middle of nowhere, and then walks through deserted, industrial districts before finally flagging down a taxi that takes him to the destination.

The filmmakers, Andrea Testa and Francisco Marquez, for whom this is a first feature, establish from the beginning a tense, noir-ish atmosphere through the use of near-constant close-ups, long takes, and extended tracking shots through the empty, ominous city.

Mr. Velazquez delivers a mesmerizing performance. He rarely abandons his deadpan expression, yet he nevertheless communicates his anxiety, uncertainty, and dread with his eyes and body language rather than theatrical histrionics.

After the screening, Mr. Velazquez noted that the novel from which the film was adapted had a narrator, but that the filmmakers chose to avoid any voiceover narration. The atmosphere is created by the cinematography, the sinister cityscape, and, perhaps most of all, by the face of a man who has to hide the conflicting emotions raging inside him.

“The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis” will be presented again in East Hampton Sunday evening at 8:45. 

Ina Pira, HIFF senior programmer, and Diego Velazquez, after the screeningMark Segal