Puenzos Power Up ‘Argenshow,’ Animation Hybrid ‘Last Wish,’ New TV Dramas, as ‘Unseen’ Bows at Ventana Sur (EXCLUSIVE)

John Hopewell
Variety

BUENOS AIRES — Historias Cinematograficas, the family production house boasting the talents of Academy Award winning Luis Puenzo (“The Official Story,” “Old Gringo”) and Lucia Puenzo (“XXY,” “The German Doctor), plus Nicolas and Esteban Puenzo, has set a 2016-17 production-development slate which must rank as one of the largest of any independent family business in Latin America.

Confirmed in the run-up to Ventana Sur, and presented a few weeks back behind closed doors at Los Cabos, the line-up is bulking, heterogenous, and ambitious. It also represents the latest projects from one of the few companies in Argentina capable of making films which gross seven-figure box office outside Argentina.

Slate takes in Lucia Puenzo’s French-language debut “Bluebeard,” brothers Esteban and Nicolas Puenzo’s feature debuts, two movie projects from Luis Puenzo – one a animated-live action feature, another a historical epic – and two potentially notable TV drama series.

However ranging, the slate still says much about the Puenzos, their MO and the growing empowerment of Latin America fiction.

Only one of the lineup’s narratives is set entirely in Argentina: necessarily “El Bombardeo,” which took place there. Others take place in New York (hybrid feature “The Last Wish”), a pointedly modern-day Paris of haute culture (“Bluebeard”), or range over much of Latin America (Esteban Puenzo’s “Argenshow,” Nicolas Puenzo’s “The Unseen”), or between Spain and Argentina – Luis Puenzo’s “La Quinta Esencia” (The Soul) – or the furthest realms of outer space (“Voyage To the One”).

Projects underscore the energetic diversification in Latin American fiction. Filmmakers are pushing into TV drama creation – Lucia and Nicolas Puenzo already co-wrote and directed “Cromo,” an eco thriller that world premiered at Toronto’s Prime Time section last year. Major movie directors are ramping up animated features, Walter Salles is producing “Noah’s Ark,” for instance.

That said, one question in artistic terms, is whether the Puenzos, 35 years on, are continuing, though now on a far broader canvas, the family enterprise embodied by Puenzo’s “The Official Story”: Peeling back conventional wisdom and establishment verities to expose more complex, disquieting truths – in history, sexuality, psychology, or government and big company machination. “I want to narrate in a microscopic manner how someone can fall in love with a person although they sense they’re dangerous,” Lucia Puenzo commented, for example, about “Bluebeard.”

Slate highlights:

*Structured as an Argentine-Mexico-U.S. co-production, Esteban Puenzo’s debut feature, “Argenshow,” is scheduled to shoot late 2017 in Central America and Miami. A 1980s-set political drama, it turns on two brothers, a magician and clown, offered a contract by Argenshow , an entertainment company, to tour Central America with their circus. But Argenshow proves a front for pernicious political axes conniving for influence in the region. “This is an extremely political film, about grave issues, but told as a farce. We want to make an film which is enormously attractive,’’ said Luis Puenzo, adding a screenplay is near completion.

*Much sooner, Nicolas Puenzo, ‘The German Doctor’s” DP, will debut as a feature director with “Los Ultimos” (The Unseen), screening in rough cut at Ventana Sur’s Primer Corte, a Western-come-political parable set in a none-too-distant future devastated by water shortage, war, and ecological destruction. Sneak peaked at Los Cabos, it was shot in the Salar de Uyuni, where Herzog lensed “Salta and Fire.”

*Written and to be directed by Luis Puenzo, animated feature “The Last Wish” adapts the New York-set comic published over 1982-91 from Argentina’s Carlos Trillo and Horacio Altuna about a world where a mass-sterilisation bomb has wiped out the whole adult population and children die at puberty, terrified of love and lust. “The Last Wish” is designed as an international co-production. “I’ve filmed most everything I wanted to, but haven’t done animation and this is an incredible story,” said Puenzo about a movie which looks set to be a live action-animation hybrid.

*Puenzo is also writing “El Bombardeo,” about  the 1955 bombing of Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo by the Argentina Navy and Air Force in an attempted coup d’etat against president Juan Peron. “It’s like Guernica, but more civilians died in the Playa de Mayo than in Guernica,” said Puenzo. The incident split Argentina in two and left hostages to fortune: Many of the generals which led Argentina’s Dirty War of the 1980s – Videla, Massera – were young officers at the time.

*Produced by Paris-based Pyramide Productions, and co-produced by Historias Cinematogaficas, Lucia Puenzo’s French-language debut “Bluebeard” has been moved back a year, due to her maternity. Needing to shoot in a wintery Paris, “Bluebeard,”, inspired by Amelie Nothomb’s 2012 novel, and set in a modern-day Paris, will now go into production in Oct.-Nov. 2017, said Luis Puenzo. It narrates how a young picture restorer falls in love with a much older, domineering recluse based on the Bluebeard figure. But, investigating the fate of his previous lovers, she realises all of them have disappeared.

*Of TV drama projects, mini series “Voyage to the One” is a sci-fi psychological thriller based on a novella by Sergio Bizzio whose “Cinismo” was adapted by Lucia Puenzo for “XXY.” It turns on six children from different ethnic backgrounds who are brought up in a simulator space ship until, aged 17, they blast off into space on a 150-year journey to a habitable planet, for which they must procreate the next generation of crew members. Screenplay for the 12-episode series is by Lucia Puenzo and Bizzio, turning on the relationships between the young astronauts, “their alliances, hostilities, love affairs, preferences, roiling resentments,’ Lucia Puenzo told Variety.

*Written by Luis Puenzo, “La Quinta Esencia” (The Soul) is a four-part miniseries related to the four elements and four characters – a woman geologist, a Spanish military engineer, a retired Spanish army officer who has seen active service, and a young executive at Spanish petrol company Repsol. They all recur from one episode to the next, though segments change protagonists. Kicking off in 2000 when the woman mets the three men on a rig in the Cantabria Sea, where they’re trapped by a storm, “The Soul” takes in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and 2004 Atocha terrorist bombing, ending up in the present day, said Luis Puenzo. All three men become the woman’s lover, he added.

*Teaming in Argentina with Pablo Bossi, Historias co-produces “El Faro de las Orcas” (“The Orcas Searchlight”), lead-produced by Spain’s Wanda Films from a screenplay by Gerardo Olivares, Lucia Puenzo, who wrote a first version before debuting as a director, and Sallua Sehk. Bowing in Spain on Dec. 16, it turns on the tale of a mother (Maribel Verdu) who brings her autistic son to Patagonia to initiate a therapy, connecting with its whales.

Exposing hidden iniquity or complexity, many of the projects have a noirish tone. Lucia Puenzo says “Bluebeard” will have a “a mixture of elements from a fable, the sinister and a genre film.”

But they draw on different inspirations as well. There is a touch of magic realism to ‘El Bombardeo,” not because of any announced influence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez but owing to the factor that inspired his magical realism: the near surreal history of Latin America. The 1955 Plaza de Mayo bombing was “an event which didn’t occur anywhere else on the planet. It would have been “like the U.S air force bombing Washington,” said Puenzo.

Equally, the slate tips its cap at times to the towering influence of Argentine literature, Jorge Luis Borges, in its fantasy (“Voyage to the One”) and reinterpretation of established texts (“Bluebeard”). The prolific slate is part coincidence.”We’ve finished a cycle of productions and started another, with a lot of projects,” said Luis Puenzo. It also reflects the structure of Historias and sister company Hermanos Puenzow which consist of four creative hyphenates who at any time can work as producers, directors or screenwriters, contributing flexibly to one other’s productions. Esteban and Luis Puenzo teamed to co-produce “The Orcas Searchlight”; animation is “a long-distance race but my children will surely lend a hand on ‘The Last Wish,’” said Luis Puenzo.

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