Berlin 2016: Eva Doesn't Sleep review

★★★★☆
The fate of Eva Perón's body will surely go down as one of the more bizarre footnotes in history. Having been displayed to the public for two years while a monument was being built, Juan Perón was overthrown before she could be buried and the body went missing for over sixteen years. Its whereabouts have been the subject of published fiction and urban legend and now, Argentinian filmmaker Pablo Agüero has unveiled his own speculations in his latest offering Eva Doesn't Sleep, currently screening in Berlin. A symbolic film about a national symbol and the unsettling obsession with her legacy, this is a singular and wonderfully creepy work. Gael García Bernal's appearance as a sinister Naval Admiral wrong-foots the audience from the opening, bravura shot.

A vaguely distorted screen observes unmoving as the silhouetted military officer - flanked by armed guards - marches inexorably toward the camera on a long straight road, though in some instances he seems to even dance with glee? He spits his contempt all over the fourth wall; "That bitch's voice is a plague!" He's just one of the people unable to extricate himself from the orbit of the deceased, who is referred to as the country's "spiritual leader". Throughout proceedings, Agüero shifts from his fictionalised spins on real events to archive material from the time of Evita's death. This is no blow-by-blow linear narrative but a triptych of isolated incidents, flecked with surrealism, that examine the warped fetishisation that surrounds a leader and lingers long after they are gone. The third of the stories, 'The Dictator' shows the cult of Evita still alive, well and determined for answers almost twenty years after her death when the interrogate former dictator General Aramburu (Daniel Fanego) as to the body's whereabouts.

This is by far the weakest of the sections and significantly lessens the impact of what had thus far been proceeding with masterly accomplishment. With Eva Doesn't Sleep, Agüero effectively managed 2/3 of a great film. The misogyny and hatred of Bernal's opening ends with his admission that the military junta's biggest mistake was not destroying the corpse. In fact, the most exquisite sequence of the film portrays the exact opposite - the almost kinky, ritualistic embalming of the body by the reverential Dr. Ara (Imanol Arias). It's an incredible scene that cinematographer Ivan Gierasinchuk manages to make both eerie and graceful in equal measure. Almost enamoured with Evita, Dr. Ara is echoed by the transfixed young soldier (Nicolas Goldschmidt) who is accompanying the mesmeric Denis Lavant's coffin transporter. Through these unconnected shorts, Agüero chips away at patriarchal anxieties that fuel contempt of Evita and the pseudo-deification that kept the people enrapt. Eva Doesn't Sleep is about the ghost that never vacated the Argentine machine; it's dreamlike, enthralling and - don't forget - true.

The 2016 Berlin Film Festival takes place between 11-21 February. Follow our coverage here.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson

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