A Swiss banker has business in Buenos Aires in the midst of a military coup in Azor
Azor is the debut feature from Swiss director Andreas Fontana and is in competition for the first feature award at the BFI London Film Festival 2021. Set in Argentina in the 1970s it follows Swiss banker Ivan De Wiel who has travelled to the city with his wife to maintain good relations with their local customers and search for his predecessor and colleague, Keys, who has left under a dark cloud. De Wiel must convince the rich elite to keep their accounts with the bank and where possible drum up new investment.
Azor we are told, is a shorthand phrase meaning ”be quiet” or ”don’t say too much” and as De Wiel’s work is set against the backdrop of a violent political coup we come to learn that both the bank and the shadowy people it serves have skeletons in their closets.
The violent unrest going on in the rest of the county is hinted at only in the periphery. A car ahead of De Wiel’s is stopped and young men lined up and questioned at the side of the road. Cocktail conversations turn to political dissidents and their not-so-subtle disappearances. The mysterious spectre of his predecessor Key’s hangs over De Wiel throughout, as we learn he has seemingly vanished off the face of the earth; whilst the establishment are keen to play it down as him leaving on holiday irresponsibly, others whisper that Keys had crossed the wrong person and had to go into the hiding.
Azor is an exercise in tension, every character and scene being subject to a mounting, unspoken pressure. It’s an extremely taut, cold war thriller like atmosphere that is maintained throughout. De Wiel and his wife Inés seemingly the honest everyday folk who have been thrown into a viper’s nest where saying the wrong thing to the wrong person could get you killed.
Yet for all this promise, Azor moves at a glacial pace and seems far longer than its 1hr40 running time. It takes well over two thirds of the film before we get a peek behind the curtain at the Argentine Junta and the generals, clergy and aristocracy who throw around words like ”purification,” ”reeducation” and ”eradication” with reference to what is going on off camera.
In the climactic scene of the film De Wiel is invited to make a deal with the devil; he travels to a secretive jungle meeting to learn about a promising new revenue stream the military regime wants the bank to help them invest. The ”reveal” as it were, is ultimately disappointing in that it is not surprising at all (a Swiss bank helping people hide funds of dark origin? Never!)
The only spark of interest is a very brief but curious shot which prompts us to question De Veal’s own motivations and if he is indeed the ”good guy trapped by bad circumstances” we believed him to be. I only wish story had dug more into his narrative instead of the somewhat unexciting ”the obviously evil people are, infact, evil” climax.
A talky political thriller that transports a familiar financial story to a new continent, Azor masks it’s eventual horrors under glamorous dinner parties, country mansions and suave suits. A quiet film with a singular message about the dark heart of Swiss banking, there is enough grim truth here to make it feel painfully close to reality. I just wish the story had felt a bit fresher.
Azor is playing at the BFI London Film Festival (6-17th October 2021) and awaits a general release. Tickets for the festival are available here