When is a thriller not a thriller? In Azor’s case, it’s when the protagonist refuses to believe he’s in one. The ‘hero’ of Andreas Fontana’s intriguing but perhaps overly opaque debut film is Swiss banker Yvan De Wiel (Fabrizio Rongione), sent to Argentina in the midst of their military junta’s ‘80s ‘Dirty War’ against their own population to smooth things over with his bank’s wealthiest clients. There’s moral rot both within Yvan and in the Argentine society at large, not to mention a major conspiracy at play, but he’s in no hurry to uncover it until decisions and discoveries are forced upon him.
Instead, he pays leisurely visits to the clients, backed up by his diplomatically astute wife Ines (Stephanie Cleau), where he reassures them that their assets are safe despite the junta running rampant and mysterious disappearance of his predecessor, Keys. Keys takes on a Kurtz-like role, never seen or heard but weighing heavily over proceedings and subject to rumours that can’t decide whether he’s a deranged maniac or dead at the hands of the trigger-happy military, and Rongione does a great line in barely repressing Yvan’s resentment of his more infamous and interesting colleague.
Likewise, we don’t see many of the military figures that have made Yvan’s trip such an urgent necessity – with the exception of one client’s daughter being ‘disappeared’ by the junta for her political activism, Yvan’s contacts are the kind of people generally exempt from any real consequences outside of some asset losses. Fontana relies purely on his controlled but unsettling atmosphere – bolstered by an eerie and sparsely used score – to engage you, and whilst this can make for a woozily hypnotic experience, it does also move pretty slowly. A trip upriver towards the end jolts the film from its daze, Yvan finally picking a side in this dark moment of South American history, but Azor mostly goes at its own leisurely pace.
Fontana does do a great job of putting you in the mind of a man who realises pretty quickly that he’s in over his head. Conversations around Yvan (alternating between Spanish, French, and English) are always clashing together, people speaking over one another and key meanings getting lost in the shuffle. You always feel just one step behind, thrown into a world of greed and corruption that you can’t hope to fully understand, giving Azor more than a hint of noir, although this time our protagonist is not a PI, but the sleazy financier the PI would likely be investigating.
Languorous and distant, Azor makes you put in the work to get the most out of it, but it mostly pays off in an insightful look at how financial corruption transcends pretty much any other political circumstance. The title is a Swiss banking codeword that roughly translates to ‘be quiet’ or ‘see nothing’, and Azor strictly obeys its own rules of subtlety and tact, for better and worse.