Anyone struggling with inspiration for a story would do good to open up a history book. That’s perhaps the most salient takeaway from Pablo Aguero‘s “Eva Doesn’t Sleep,” a film brimming with potential, splashed with moments of technical brilliance, but feeling dispiritingly incomplete by the time it ends. Eva Peron, Argentinian champion of women’s and worker’s rights in the ’40s, became a legend on the day she died in 1952. She became a symbol of change for an entire class of people, and for 25 years after her death, still led their hearts and minds. An entire movement (Peronism) was dedicated to her and her husband Juan’s honor, and right before she died at the young age of 33, she was named “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” by Congress. All the succeeding country’s military leaders stood in her shadow for decades, and the unbelievably true story of what happened to her body is the main focus of Aguero’s film.
In an effort to capture the larger-than-life presence this woman had in death, Aguero chooses a distinctive approach. The film is essentially three short films in one, bookended by the dictator who plays the final role in the story of Eva’s corpse. Ambiguous and threatening, this man is known only as Amiral (Gael Garcia Bernal), and he narrates the story of Eva’s legacy to us with the malice of a victor who has won a life-long battle. Referring to her as “bitch,” or simply “this woman,” Amiral emerges from a black-and-white mist, and tells us of her undeniable charisma, with more just a tinge of jealousy in his voice. Through a flurry of style, including real-life footage of Eva embracing the crowds — screaming promises of going out “with the working classes, with the women of the people, dead or alive!” — we are introduced to the first segment, titled “The Embalmer.”Dr. Pedro Ara (Imanol Arias) is in charge of embalming her body, and he ends up doing a meticulous job with it (Eva’s corpse is actually played by actress Sabrina Macchi). By far the weakest of the three, this section is mostly Ara reverently musing over the opportunity to preserve the corpse of Eva Peron to his liking. Despite some pretty-looking dark imagery, “The Embalmer” ends up being little else than a narrative obstacle for the next, infinitely more intriguing, sketch. Starring the force-of-nature that is Denis Levant as the Colonel in charge of illegally transporting Peron’s body, “The Transporter” is shot in a few single, technically-dazzling takes. Its centerpiece is a conversation between the Colonel and his assistant, Officer Robles (Nicolas Goldschmidt), and its slow build of madness is absorbing. It ends with a distorted, breathtaking, reflection shot that eclipses everything else in the film.
The third story is perhaps even more powerful than the second. “The Dictator” takes place in a basement, where kidnapped military general Aramburu (Daniel Fanego) is kept alive by Peronists in order to reveal the state secret of where Eva Peron’s body is buried. Aguero’s cinematographer, Ivan Gierasinchuk, does some astounding camera work in this final piece, which is also comprised of only a few shots. And stop yourself from immediately associating “long take” with Emmanuel Lubezki; we’re talking about takes that never emphasize their lengths, making you realize only at the midway mark what tremendously hard work the actors and the camera have been doing.Yes, “Eva Doesn’t Sleep” is a film where the work of getting it made is profoundly felt through the screen. Even so, by the time it ends, the feeling of having watched something half-measured and incomplete is deadening. The film’s essence is based on the image, the core idea, of an important Argentinean figure, and it ends up being exactly as vague as that sounds. There is little in the way of attachment to any of the characters (despite fine performances by all parties), and the complete waste of Gael Garcia Bernal, whose Amiral teases us with a final segment starring himself from the moment the film begins, is damn near unforgivable. Especially considering the fact this malicious role is so out-of-the-box for a fantastic actor famous for playing on the side of justice. Forget Eva Peron’s posthumous powers, the true mystery in this film is the case of its missing final 20 minutes.
Beyond some technical wizardry, and a concept that ends up bearing little fruit for what sounds so potentially ripe for the screen. Sadly, Augero’s screenplay isn’t nearly as engaging as his direction, but the slim 85 minute running time softens the blow. [C+]