2021's Best in Review: Azor
Updated: Dec 25, 2021
A film of menacing subtlety.
"We are at a purification phase... parasites must be eradicated"
Private banker Ivan De Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione) is offered as an explanation when he tells that the reason their cab was held up on their way to the hotel was that some students were being rounded up on the road. It is the 1980s and Argentina is going through a dictatorship in which the junta killed thousands and usurped their properties.
This unchecked show of muscle by the new rulers is the least of De Wiel's concerns, though, as Keys, his bank's previous representative has disappeared. De Wiel is here to ensure that his super-rich clients do not leave him for another bank. He is accompanied by his wife Ines (Stéphanie Cléau), who is also his advisor.
While the above-mentioned statement occurs very early in the film and suggests that we will be witnessing this 'eradication', there is no violence in Azor. And while De Wiel gently investigates what happened to Keys, the film is also not a mystery in the regular sense. De Wiel has a list and he simply has to meet all those people and promise them whatever they need.
Keys is described by everyone as extravagant, brilliant, debauched and crude and his presence becomes palpable in the film without his presence. De Wiel feels threatened by the absent man's personality and develops self-doubts. Ines further goads him by telling him that his father was right, "fear makes you mediocre".
If the character of Keys looms like that of Orson Wells' in The Third Man, conspicuous by his absence, there is no big reveal waiting for the audience here. In fact, this proves to be misdirection for the audience like the early pronouncements of genocidal phrases. The keyword here, of course, is Azor. This, we are made to understand, in private banking lingo, means "Be Quiet" or "Don't Speak".
Shot beautifully in what seems like natural light, Azor manages to be oppressive and menacing even when outdoors. Like Keys, what is not being said and discussed about the brutality outside becomes palpable. Quietly, the film becomes an indictment of the complacent rich. Its greatest achievement is how it mirrors this complacency in its form. Its plush, quiet interiors become a symbol of the uncaring bourgeois.
It is right towards the end, as Ivan De Wiel travels through a jungle on a boat on a foreboding night, I realised that this journey of its most prominently recalls that of Marlow's in Heart of Darkness. The only difference here is that both Marlow and Kurtz lie inside Ivan and it is the internal compromise between the two facets that becomes the final act of implication in the film.
Streaming at https://mubi.com/films/azor