A couple of weeks ago Buenos Aires was all but completely shut down thanks to the visit of some of the most powerful people in the entire world for the G20 Summit. If you live here, then you probably heard about it; at the very least, you caught some of our frenzied coverage of it, or you found yourself somewhat inconvenienced by the transportation blocks. At the time, we also posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek list of binge-worthy political thrillers for you to stay home and watch — thrillers that dealt with corrupt politicians, government conspiracies, mustache-twirling businessmen, and tenacious reporters (or detectives, or both) in a tireless pursuit for the truth. These are all hallmarks of a classic political thriller.
But something that will make a political thriller stand out — something that will give it an extra degree of power, of resonance, of poignancy — is its ability to comment on the current political climate. To draw parallels with what is happening to our world at the moment, regardless of the fact that it may be depicting scenarios from decades ago. To portray situations that ring true in the current political climate, reverberating beyond the specifics of each individual plotline to speak to a fundamental truth that lies beneath the details, and that remains relevant and vital. This is the kind of thing that will leave you shaken after watching a powerful political thriller. Without that, it may be an entertaining enough piece of work, but you won’t leave you walking out of the theater feeling like you’ve just been kicked to the chest the way the best political thrillers do.
Ezequiel C. Inzaghi’s new film El Jardín de La Clase Media has a lot going for it. Its premise is intriguing enough, it has a talented cast that is committed to selling the emotion behind even the silliest moments in the script, and it has an aesthetic approach that falls somewhere between “stylish” and “competent”. But it doesn’t kick you in the chest. In fact, it doesn’t do much touching at all. The best political thrillers throw the audience right in the heart of the drama, so every revelation feels like a genuine shock.
For the course of its (mercifully short) runtime, El Jardín de la Clase Media feels very much like it’s narrating from a distance; a bit like if what you are watching is simply a third party’s recounting of a half-remembered movie they saw sometime last week. Everything feels detached and hollow.
The plot centers around an ambitious politician (played by Luciano Cáceres) who is trying his darndest to make his way up the political ranks. He is married to a physician (played by Eugenia Tobal, one of my favorite parts of the film). And though the rocky ascent to the top of the political food-chain is fraught will all manners of inconveniences, the really big one — and the one that finally sets the convoluted plot in motion– arrives in the form of a nude, decapitated female corpse that is found tied to one of the trees in their palatial estate.
As you might imagine, this causes a bit of a stir in the lead-up to the elections, and soon various interested parties start making themselves (and their agendas) clearer to both the audience and our lead characters. All the backstage wheelings-and-dealings suddenly take a backseat to the central murder mystery, only to re-emerge further down the plot thread. That familiar “nothing is quite as it seems” plot device takes over our perception as audience members, but each revelation elicits more weary groans than shocked gasps.
And look, there’s a lot we could say about the plot and its various hackneyed contrivances; the way it feels like we’ve seen all of this before, in better movies; the fact that character motivations seem unclear and fuzzy; the way that reactions to earth-shattering events seem more like subdued shrugs, lacking in verisimilitude; the fact that the overriding feeling that permeates the entire third act is “nothing really matters to anyone”. All of these are real problems that make it hard to connect with this film, beyond its obvious charms. But they’re not the biggest problems.
The biggest problem with this film — and the reason it never feels like much more than just another in a long line of interchangeable thrillers– is that it doesn’t really have much to say. Inzaghi and company have accomplished the task of crafting a political thriller in the midst of a politically turbulent time in the country’s history that somehow doesn’t feel like it’s alluding to anything, or pointing fingers at anyone, or attempting to develop themes deeper or more thoughtful than “the world is a messed up place”. El Jardín de la Clase Media is rife with missed opportunities. And because it doesn’t really have anything to say, its superficial qualities feel like empty calories, and the entire structure falters and falls apart.
Is it a passable enough way to spend two hours in an air-conditioned cinema? Sure. But will you feel like you just watched a piece of work that commented on, and illuminated, aspects of this country’s political reality in an thoughtful and artful way? Not this one. And that’s a shame.
El Jardin de Las Clases is in theaters now. More info on screenings