It’s melodramatic in the extreme, with lots of low lighting and women in emotional turmoil. But Argentinian drama “The Crimes that Bind (Crímenes de familia)” is dryer and quieter than your average movie-length soap opera.
Lacking even the emotional queues that music provides for most of its length, one can praise the glossy production design and courtroom scenes rendered as dull as real life, and that’s about it.
This latest feature from the director of “El Patron” weaves a tale of two crimes and one family so deliberately that by the time the twists and emotional payoffs in the third act arrive, we can be excused for being long past caring.
It’s a vehicle for Cecilia Roth, an Argentine screen legend (She was in Pedro Almodóvar’s second film, “Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom.”), who plays a Buenos Aires lady who lunches.
But the chats and meals with her closest friends have taken a turn when we meet her. We know why when she gets that collect call from the prison. Her son Daniel (Benjamín Amadeo) is in the slammer, domestic violence charges, or “assault aggravated by kinship,” as its called (in Spanish with English subtitles).
Daniel has drug problems, and an ex who won’t let him see their little boy. Alicia believes Daniel when he talks of being “set up.” Her husband, Ignacio (Miguel Ángel Solá) isn’t buying it.
They have a maid who provides a further source of stress. Gladys (Yanina Ávila) is a “simple” country woman in her early 20s, with a little boy, no social skills and the cowering manner of someone who feels out of her depth in any conversation. But Alicia keeps her on the job, and dotes on the little boy Gladys is seemingly unqualified to raise on her own.
The first twist in the plot is a bending of timelines. We get to know both Daniel and Gladys in court. She, too, has a charge against her “aggravated by kinship.” Eventually. Her trial comes after Daniel’s, even though the two court cases and Alicia’s struggles with them (She testifies in one.) are edited to seem concurrent.
We’re treated to long, semi-passionate harangues in the form of opening statements byt the accused and the prosecution to the three-judge panels. The difference between US and Argentine courts are interesting, up to a point. But these scenes, sans music and being only vague descriptions of the crimes, are “He said/She said” at their most boring.
Only one crime will be elucidated through flashbacks. Eventually.
Roth is a fine actress and gets a few heated moments to play. But in a film where much is withheld, including emotions, even she seems muted — muzzled. Her character’s journey is predictable, and even her Big Realization arrives with little fanfare or fireworks. Understated.
The title may fool you into thinking this is some sort of Argentine mob family saga, but don’t fall for that. This is a courtroom telenovela with better makeup and lighting, and fewer dramatics.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, descriptions of violent crimes
Cast: Cecilia Roth, Miguel Ángel Solá, Sofía Gala Castiglione, Benjamín Amadeo, Yanina Ávila
Credits: Directed by Sebastián Schindel, script by Pablo Del Teso, Sebastián Schindel A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:39