From the first scene of the frustratingly semi-impressionistic Argentinian action-drama Ardor, Kaí (Gael García Bernal), a stoic outsider who inexplicably materializes half-naked out of a lake, is presented as the Paraná jungle’s superhuman protector.
Writer-director Pablo Fendrik struggles to make the human protagonists in his arty genre film look like extensions of their sweltering, grimy tropical forest setting. So it’s only a matter of time until Kaí, a reluctant man of action, retaliates against the killer mercenaries who try to force farmer’s daughter Vania (City of God‘s Alice Braga) to sell her father’s land. Too bad that Ardor‘s arrhythmic editing and glacial pacing make it impossible to get lost in its jungles — or to invest in its pseudo-mystical ambiance.
Fendrik draws out Kaí’s road to ass-kicking heroics in tantalizingly slow, dialogue-light scenes where characters express their alienation from nature (and each other) by avoiding eye contact and murmuring to each other while cicadas buzz, firewood crackles, and river water sloshes on the film’s soundtrack. But once Ardor focuses on anticlimactic action set pieces, you’ll wish Fendrik were more committed to his avant-garde flourishes.
He teases viewers by showing Bernal, a naturally charismatic leading man, hurl bamboo shoots and fire rifles at his opponents from off-camera. These scenes are presented in such a generically over-edited and under-choreographed style that Ardor ultimately looks like a misconceived variation on meathead-hero-in-the-jungle gems like Predator and Commando. Simon Abrams
Written and directed by Pablo Fendrik
Opens July 17, IFC Center
Available on demand