Azor by Andreas Fontana (2021)

A scene from Azor (available to watch on Mubi)

For those of us who still remember coming through Customs in Indian airports before the license raj ended in the 90s, a remark by one of the characters in Andreas Fontana’s debut feature, Azor, will evoke memories of a long-forgotten truth. The scene in question takes place at the start of the film, which is set in Argentina in the early 80s. The military junta is in power and the moneyed classes of Buenos Aires and the Argentine countryside and elsewhere are nervous. A Swiss banker, Remy Keys, has disappeared. His colleague, Yvan, has landed in the country to reassure their skittish clients that the bank is there for them. One of these, a widow, talks about how she’s no longer traveling now that Keys is not there to be a guide and a friend. Keys, she tells Yvan, had told her the trick to getting through Customs is sheer confidence — the officers don’t trouble such passengers. Don’t look nervous and you will sail through. This was what our parents used to say when coming through Bombay airport all those years ago, saying, walk through the Green Channel like you mean it and don’t even look at the poor souls stuck, miserable, in Red.

Azor is filled with a sense of quiet dread. It begins with Yvan and his wife Ines in their car, arriving in the Argentine capital and seeing the military conduct random searches and pat-downs of citizens on the road. Guns and checkpoints abound. There are whispers of others who have gone missing besides Keys. Yvan, a bland cipher played to perfection by Fabrizio Rongione, is on what is called “a tour of the camel” — basically introducing oneself as a private banker and winning the trust of the obscenely wealthy.

Yvan’s tour through the drawing rooms and hushed clubs deepens not only his disquiet but his sense of being inferior to his absent colleague. Why is Ines with him, you wonder and soon enough you figure it out. This man, absent a personality, requires this foil of an elegant woman to lend him credibility, to ensure that despite being the ideal Swiss banker (a non-entity without a personality) there might be a danger of being too much of a void. You still need to have some human quality that would allow even the elite classes sitting atop a corrupt system to be comfortable relaying their secretive financial transactions.

Yvan is constantly reminded by Keys’ ex-clients (and in some cases rival bankers) that he’s not a match for his predecessor. It’s something his wife tells him he has to overcome while they court and retain the clients on race courses, in parties with properties that have swimming pools (one character dismisses the suggestion he hold a gathering at his place since it doesn’t have a pool and therefore none of the invitees would attend), in country estates with centuries-old trees.

The longer Yvan stays in the country and as he clears each obstacle to get to the clients Keys was pursuing before his disappearance, the more he’s complicit in the terrors being inflicted on this country’s populace by its junta. This happens off-screen and again, like so much else in this movie of hushed silences and whispered, overlapping conversations, it’s the implication that drives the menace and amps up the sense of anxiety. In a conversation in the party taking place on the property with the pool, Ines discusses code words with the widow (she of the getting-past-Customs-technique). Azor, Ines says, is a code for things that shouldn’t be discussed.

It’s always fascinating to watch, read and experience art that is about absences. That is about events that happen away from our gaze and immediate comprehension. In a discussion at the end of the movie and available on Mubi, Fontana talks about how it was reading the diaries of his grandfather, also a Swiss banker, also someone who was in Argentina around 80s, that inspired him to write this story and make the film. The codes and moral ambiguities of this world, of money and the absence of a conscience, the corruption that exists beneath polished marble and blue swimming pools, are what gives Azor its heft, what makes it linger in your mind long after the final credits have rolled up and away.




Observe, read, scribble

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Saudha Kasim

Saudha Kasim

Observe, read, scribble

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