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Sundance 2016 Review: ‘Jacqueline (Argentine)’ Is a Strangely Disjointed Film That Somehow Remains Captivating

Sundance 2016 Review: 'Jacqueline (Argentine)' Is a Strangely Disjointed Film That Somehow Remains Captivating

Some of the most intriguing films are mysteries. You’re not sure what you’re looking at until the final frame, and sometimes, even then, you’re left questioning what you’ve just seen with your own two eyes. Bernardo Britto’s mockumentary “Jacqueline (Argentine)” left me with this particular feeling. So full of twist and turns, it’s a film that is as fascinating as it is exasperating. Britto was inspired by Laura Poitras’ Academy Award winning documentary “Citizenfour”, about NSA spy Eric Snowden.  However, “Jacqueline (Argentine)” is something else entirely.

The film follows an unnamed struggling film director (played by Wyatt Cenac) who, while house-sitting for a friend in Miami, receives a strange and rather troubling voicemail. In the message, a source claims to have stumbled upon some French national security secrets. Without much more information, and mostly out of boredom, the director grabs his cameraman and sound guy and hightails it to Argentina where the source has gone to seek refuge.

Upon arriving in Argentina, things quickly start off on the wrong foot. The airline has lost the crew’s camera equipment, and we soon learn that the source is actually a young French woman by the name of Jacqueline Dumont (played wonderfully by Camille Rutherford). Jacqueline has run off to Argentina after discovering a plot to assassinate a mid-level Arab politician.  According to Jacqueline, this no-name politician’s death will have irreparable repercussions for countries across the globe. The death does actually occur, even though no reporter seems to take Jacqueline’s claims seriously. However, things don’t happen exactly how this captivating woman says they are going to.

That’s essentially the plot in itself. The rest of the film is footage of Jacqueline eating toast, going for her morning run, or witnessing her one-sided phone conversations with various news outlets.  

“Jacqueline (Argentine)” is exasperating because so many of its storylines are simply laid out without any explanation as to why the viewer should accept them. For example, Jacqueline seeking out an American no-name director is implausible. Let’s not even get into the fact that a 20-something French woman would probably never give up her seemingly cushy life for this cause. Eric Snowden, Jacqueline Dumont is not.

If you take “Jacqueline (Argentine)” for what it is, it can be quite a bit of fun. Director Britto is able to deliver a comedic thriller in what appears to be a documentary, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen done successfully before. Wyatt Cenac’s hilarious deadpan narration adds an additional spin to the project, almost giving the audience permission not to really care about Jacqueline’s claims, because he obviously doesn’t. You also come to realize halfway though the film that Cenac isn’t even in Argentina. He’s never seen in any of the footage shot in the country. Other hilarious bits woven throughout the film are the numerous shots of the pool, or the film crew’s night out with Jacqueline. We even meet an Argentinean man with an unfathomable obsession with DVDs. There is also Jacqueline’s sole friend in Argentina, a petite American girl, whose face seems to be contorted into a permanent scowl.

Despite these laugh-out-loud moments, much of the film is simply confusing. The audience can’t tell if Jacqueline has lured the crew to Argentina simply for her own amusement, or because her story is actually legitimate. The director doesn’t seem to be too sure either.  The film doesn’t have much of a plot, just a series of video blogs edited together, with terrifying shots of dead dogs interspersed between them. 

“Jacqueline (Argentine)” feels like an overextended vacation you didn’t quite want to go on in the first place. Although, if you’re willing to give yourself over to the journey, and forgive the strangeness of it all, Camille Rutherford’s portrayal of Jacqueline is at least worth the watch.

***

Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami

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