leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Argentine Writer-director Julia Solomonoff's first feature parses the thorny relationship between sisters reunited after an eight-year separation. The year is 1984, and when Elena (Valeria Bertuccelli) and Natalia Levin (Ingrid Rubio) last saw each other, Argentina was sinking into the violence and paranoia of the Dirty War, a seven-year campaign to root out dissidents and subversives waged by the military regime that seized power after President Juan Peron's death. Both sisters were students, and their father, David (Horacio Pena), was a respected academic and novelist with a regular newspaper column. Elena was already dating soccer coach Sebastian (Adrian Navarro), whom she later married, and Natalia had just begun seeing Martin (Nicolas Pauls), one of her father's favorite students and Sebastian's close friend. Sebastian came from a politically conservative and well-connected background — his uncle (Eusebio Poncela) was the head of Elena's school and was rumored to have government ties — while Martin and Elena were involved with the University Youth Movement, an increasingly violent political organization opposed to the government. Their youthful innocence officially ended when police burst into the family's country home and took Martin, who was never seen again. Natalia fled to Spain, where she attended university and became a rootless journalist. Elena got pregnant and dropped out of school; she and Sebastian moved to the U.S. and are newly settled in a bland suburban housing development in Walnut Creek, Texas, with their 8-year-old, Tomas (Milton de la Canal). Determined to fit in, they've adopted American attitudes and habits — diets, gym memberships, no talk of messy politics when neighbors visit — while Natalia, always a firebrand, is resolutely European. But what really causes friction is the manuscript their mother (Monica Galan) found after David died, in a box he buried in the backyard during the troubled years. "In the Shadow of Paradise" proves to be a thinly veiled roman a clef about the Levin family's tribulations, and Natalia begins to read it closely, searching for clues about the event that has haunted her all her adult life: Was Martin betrayed by a member of her family? Solomonoff cuts back and forth between 1984 and 1976, gradually revealing the truth of what happened, but the mystery is less important than the complex relationship between Natalia and Elena, which was sorely tested by events beyond their control.