Argentina's Ricardo Darin was born to do noir. Battered and weathered he has that classic look about him, the look of a man who would rather do than speak, the look of a man who conceals unseen depths just beneath the surface of his skin. A major star in his native country he rose to international attention thanks to his leading role in neo-noir El Aura an experience that agreed with him so well that Darin opted for the full noir experience with his directorial debut.
It is 1952, Argentina. Peron is in power, his hugely popular wife laid up in what would soon become her death bed. Darin stars as Corvalan, a small time private detective with a hidden past that he'd rather not talk about. His days filled with surveillance jobs tacking unfaithful wives, his off time at the track playing the horses, the occasional evening with an accommodating - perhaps overly accommodating, if his suspicions are correct - girlfriend, his life is simple, predictable, unspectacular.
Unspectacular that is, until Corvalan lays eyes on Gloria. She is across the room at the track, her striking looks distracting Corvalan from a supposed business meeting with his business partner, Santana. And not only is Gloria aware of the attention, she enjoys it, having a waiter slip Corvalan her phone number. She has an ulterior motive, of course, and needs to put Corvalan to work and what at first appears to be yet another simple surveillance job soon turns out to be very much more and Corvalan is soon in the midst of an escalating mafia war with bodies piling up and his own life in danger.
If not for the fact that it is shot in color rather than black and white and if not for one brief nude scene La Senal could very easily have been shot at the time it is set. The film is a note perfect return to classic, Raymond Chandler style film noir. The era is captured flawlessly, everything plays in half shadow, the men all wear suits and hats, everybody has an angle, and the only true emotion our hero shows is for his dog. Little is said, much is implied, and the real drama lies in the interplay of desire and repression rather than in the gunplay. And, yes, everything hinges on the behavior of a true femme fatale.
By current standards La Senal moves a little bit slowly but it's all in service of the mood, in the name of capturing an era when communication happened face to face or on hand written notes rather than instantaneously by electronic means. It is a handsome, deliberate piece of work driven by strong characters, tight plotting, richly detailed design and - most of all - stellar performances by Darin, Julietta Diaz as Gloria and Diego Peretti as Santana. It is the sort of film that could easily have broken down into a weak nostalgia piece but under the firm guidance of Darin and Hodara La Senal proves there's still life in noir's old, whiskey soaked bones.