Argentinian cinema has shown an unsettling dark streak in recent years. Betibú doesn’t get close to 2009’s Oscar winning standout The Secret in Their Eyes, but as a murky conspiracy thriller spread across several decades, it takes an entertainingly scenic route before arriving at a deliciously dark conclusion.
Miguel Cohan’s film opens with a death, the first but not last to be uncovered. Wealthy industrialist Pedro Chazarreta (Mario Pasik) sits in his chair, throat cut. The police show no sign of getting anywhere leaving it to the unlikely journalistic trio of famous crime novelist Nurit “Betibú” Iscar (Mercedes Morán), embittered veteran reporter Jaime Brena (Daniel Fanego) and hotshot new crime head Mariano Saravia (Alberto Ammann) to uncover a mystery that hinges on secrets stretching back decades.
This is not a character driven film. The main trio are little more than cut-outs given the minimum to allow them to function. They have one note each and it just about plays in tune. Betibú gets a fading career and an old relationship with her philandering editor, Brena is forced to relive past cases and failures and Saravia struggles to make his mark on a tough beat. It’s as if the screenplay got bored halfway through fleshing them out.
At least there’s enough to enjoy in the plot. The deeper everyone digs, the more bodies begin to surface. Soon, a simple robbery gone wrong has morphed into something far more sinister. Varnished, if somewhat undistinguished visuals, an unsettling score and a steady conveyor belt of clues keep everything moving.
The connections that bring an increasing number of distinguished figures into the fray are often arbitrary. Someone will suddenly remember hidden details in a photograph or stumbled across stock footage, but it does the trick by forcing forward momentum. When the parcel is finally unwrapped, as is often the case with complicated mysteries, the resolution fails to excite. The fun is nearly always in not knowing. However, Cohan finds a beautifully nihilistic conclusion that spices up an otherwise routine ending.
Betibú won’t start any fires but at least for a little while it can quench a thirst for mystery. Sink in and let this decent yarn wash over you.