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Original title: La cordillera

D: Santiago Mitre / 114m

Cast: Ricardo Darín, Dolores Fonzi, Erica Rivas, Gerardo Romano, Héctor Díaz, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Alfredo Castro, Paulina García, Leonardo Franco, Elena Anaya, Christian Slater

At the beginning of The Summit, one thing is made abundantly clear: that as Argentina’s recently elected President Blanco (Darín) is on the verge of travelling to Chile to take part in a summit arranged to discuss the setting up of a South American version of OPEC, there’s trouble waiting in the wings in the form of his son-in-law. Blanco may have been involved in a misappropriation of state funds before he became president. His team of advisors are worried about the possible repercussions if this knowledge becomes public, but with the summit just a day away, they decide to play a waiting game. Blanco makes one decision, though: he arranges for his daughter, Marina (Fonzi), to be brought out to the remote Andean hotel all the delegates are staying at. Perhaps she can provide some insight into her husband’s motives, even though they’re separated.

And so, the first of four separate plot strands is woven into place. Soon there will be the political machinations that go hand in hand with a number of countries all vying to get a large piece of the pie from assembling a mult-national oil conglomerate. Marina will suffer a breakdown that will reveal one of two things: a dark family secret, or a darker personal tragedy. And to wrap things up, Blanco will be put in a position that will make or break him as a hero of his country (this plot strand arrives a little late but it’s there nonetheless). It’s an ambitious mix of storylines, but stitched together awkwardly and with each strand causing problems for the others. Will Blanco be able to find a way out of the dilemma posed by his son-in-law? Will Marina’s breakdown bring her father’s presidency crashing down around his ears? Will Brazil, the guiding force behind the oil summit, get its own way at the expense of a better option? And will Blanco, faced with making a momentous decision that could backfire on him just as easily as it could be the making of him, survive everything that’s being thrown at him?

To answer all those questions, would inevitably, negate any reasons to watch this movie in the first place. But the answers themselves aren’t as compelling as they could have been. Without giving too much away, one answer can be guessed easily, another is resolved by an unexpected event, one could go either way, and the last is – very strangely – a mix of all three. As to which of those coded answers matches which plot strand, that would be telling, but it’s enough to also say that director Mitre and his co-screenwriter, Mariano Llinás, have attempted to tell a political drama that continually stops to explore the private lives of two of its main characters, and often forgets for long stretches that there’s even a summit going on (for the most part it seems as if the summit takes place for only an hour or so each day, such is the amount of time that Blanco has to deal with all the other issues that crop up).

Where it might have been a good idea to devote equal time and emphasis to all the various strands, and make them part of a slowly evolving (and involving) narrative, Mitre decides instead to concentrate on each one as if they were unconnected to each other. This leads to abrupt transitions of both tone and pacing, as when the summit is forgotten about in order for Marina’s breakdown to be explored in ever greater detail (and long enough for an Argentinian doctor (Castro) to be flown in to treat her). Likewise the arrival of Slater’s US government representative, which requires a hush-hush meeting with Blanco that again calls for him to be away from the summit for a length of time that in any other political thriller, would have the other delegates looking at him with dark suspicion. It’s at moments like these that Mitre seems unable to decide what’s more important: the basic set up of the summit, or the other stories he and Llinás have concocted in order to pad out the running time.

With its inelegant narrative that flits back and forth and never really lets the viewer get comfortable with what’s happening, The Summit has too many longueurs that bring it up sharply and require something of a kick start to get things moving again. Mitre also wants us to invest heavily in the relationship between Blanco and Marina, but thanks to the decision to take a side-step into psychological thriller territory, the issues each has with the other are allowed to be subsumed in a game of guess-the-truth, a game that could have been intriguing and more absorbing if it wasn’t dropped as soon as the movie needed too get back to the summit and wrap things up in a nice neat bow. Like a lot of the movie’s attempts at providing a probing, incisive narrative to draw in its audience, the end result provides instead a feeling that’s more akin to frustration than satisfaction.

Against all this, the cast struggle gamely with roles that often prove perfunctory, with even the usually dependable Darín unable to make much headway with a script that paints Blanco as a politician somewhat out of his depth on the world stage, and never really changes or challenges that assessment. As the daughter with a range of issues that every politican’s daughter seems to have, Fonzi does stary-eyed before emotion, and always seems half a beat behind where her character needs to be in any given scene. Rivas is good as the president’s loyal personal secretary, Cacho makes an impression as a Machiavellian Mexican president, and Anaya has a small role as a journalist who pops up here and there to ask “difficult” questions of the countries’ leaders. But the acting is often left to fend for itself at the expense of the material, and only Javier Julia’s crisp cinematography is allowed to furnish any respite from the dull stetches that hamper the movie’s ability to keep its audience from being truly engaged with it.

Rating: 6/10 – ponderous when it should be exciting, clumsy when it should be gripping, The Summit is an unfortunate title for a movie that never hits any creative heights, and which remains stranded at ground level throughout; somewhere in its screenplay are the makings of two, better, thrillers, but it’s unlikely now that we’ll ever see them, something that is more affecting by itself than the movie as a whole.

NOTE: The following trailer doesn’t have any English language subtitles, but it does give a good sense of the movie itself.