By Don Simpson | July 18, 2015
Director: Pablo Fendrik
Writer: Pablo Fendrik
Starring: Alice Braga, Gael García Bernal, Claudio Tolcachir, Chico Díaz, Julián Tello, Jorge Sesán, Lautaro Vilo, Iván Steinhardt
When the shirtless Kai (Gael García Bernal) emerges from the dense forrest, we can only assume that he is here to protect one of the few remaining tobacco farms alongside Argentina’s Rio Parana. This farm represents the final showdown against a ruthless band of mercenaries who have been violently uprooting farmers from their homes in the name of a maniacal corporation that specializes in deforestation. Kai is one of those strong, silent types; his mysterious air suggests that he might be one of the protective spirits of the Rio Parana mentioned in the opening title page.
Adding to his enigmatic allure, Kai opts to hide during the first attack against the farm, watching the bad guys murder the farmer and kidnap the farmer’s beautiful daughter, Vania (Alice Braga). Perhaps Kai assumes that any retaliation during this pivotal moment would be a lose-lose scenario, or maybe Kai just wants to be Vania’s knight in shining armor, rescuing her from the villains just as they are ready to rape their bounty.
Pablo Fendrik’s Ardor slyly inserts elements of magic realism into a highly referential Neo-Western, yet the purposefully cryptic characterization of Kai really convolutes the story. Though the perpetually shirtless Gael García Bernal is certainly mesmerizing, he is no Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson — but that is not Bernal’s fault, it is the disorienting setup of his character. So let’s blame the screenplay, because you can only be so unforthcoming about a character before their persona begins to fade away into sheer translucency.
Stoically shot by Julián Apezteguia, Ardor basks in the lush, green landscape of the Argentinian forrest. The intention of the film is undeniably a treatise on the significance of the environment. Kai is the noble savage who shares a primordial connection with the natural world, showcased by him meditating in the forrest alongside a jaguar. Channeling Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke, Kai’s goal is to restore a balance between humans and nature, rarely resorting to violence in order to do so. Very noble indeed.