I get through a lot of Spanish language cinema in pursuit of something out of the ordinary in my “Around the World With Netflix” browsing. And as I do, one opening credit always gets my attention and raises my hopes.
A flag appears, and “Produced with help from the Argentine Ministry of Culture” pops up in Spanish. Not everything with that label is a dazzler. But what Korea is to supernatural thrillers, zombie and monster movies, Argentina is to mysteries, murder tales and the like.
From “The Secret in Their Eyes” and “Furtive” to “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Black Snow,” “The Son” and even “Beer, Pizza and Smokes,” Argentine filmmakers often produce movies that keep us guessing or surprise us with their deadly twists.
The bizarre, particularly gruesome death that “Blood Will Tell” circles around and the clever way it is hidden and then revealed make this latest film from the husband-and-wife team of Miguel and Ana Cohan (“No Return”) stand out, and provides a great hook for a tale of deaths and debt in an old Argentine Jewish family.
“Blood,” titled “La misma sangre” (“The Same Blood”) in Spanish, opens with one death and recollections of another. An old rancher, working on a well’s water pump on the farm, calls his son (Oscar Martínez) to complain about it, and rant about how “useless” his other “city” son is in matters about the family cattle ranch.
The old man isn’t ranting to Yako, the ranch-savvy son, about the son who plainly isn’t his favorite, Elias. “Yako died thirty years ago,” Elias testily explains (in Spanish with English subtitles) for the umpteenth time. We don’t see his reaction to the windmill climbing accident that kills his dotty dad after he hangs up the phone. But we can’t imagine many tears.
Seven years later, Elias is patriarch, the don of the family and the ranch. He’s converted their stock to buffalo, getting ahead of the curve on a new healthier meat trend that just might hit red-meat-mad South America. And then, after a family celebration, his wife (Paulina García) dies in a bizarre accident.
His daughters weep, but don’t question how it happened. But son-in-law Santiago (Diego Velázquez), a doctor, notices “strange” things about Elias’s behavior, a chill to his mourning. After snooping around just a bit, he starts sharing his unease with his wife, Carla (Dolores Fonzi), who isn’t having it.
We’ve seen a couple of clues that Santiago stumbled over. We’ve seen Elias lock eyes with him over them. We know that Elias knows that Santiago knows, and that Santiago knows that Elias knows he knows. “Blood Will Tell” is about letting us in on the details, the back-story and the further “blood” that might have been spilled and that will be spilled because of what happened.
The Cohans — Miguel directs from scripts he and wife Ana write — fold this story in on itself, revealing pieces of “that night” and the chilling manner of death. Everything, piece by piece, that plays into motive and points to consequences, will come out.
They don’t lean on Santiago as “sleuth” to tell this story, which comes from a more neutral, omniscient narrator’s point of view. They put together a puzzle for us, and let us speculate on mysteries left hanging that could just as easily expand that puzzle.
Through it all, Martínez (“The Distinguished Citizen”) suggests a man struggling to keep his burdens from his family, hellbent on proving his dismissive dead Dad wrong and juggling — investors, government bureaucrats, his wife (pre-death, in flashbacks) — all in an effort to not have his and their world crash down around his ears.
“Blood Will Tell” isn’t so much about what drives Elias to do something as it is about a man in over his head, and determined never to admit it. He is in a quiet fury over his predicament and his inability to remedy it on his own. Even discovering what he’s capable of suggests a passivity that is no credit to whatever machismo one might attach to his actions.
His subsumed fury spills over to others as they start to pick up on what Santiago figured out that moment, way back in the first act, when he and his father-in-law “had a moment,” one so disquieting that it drives this narrative and locks the viewer into this generally riveting story as it does.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, profanity
Cast: Oscar Martínez, Dolores Fonzi, Paulina García and Diego Velázquez
Credits: Directed by Miguel Cohan, scripted by Ana Cohan and Miguel Cohan. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:53