Invasión (Hugo Santiago, 1969)

by Smart

We hear every footstep, no matter if it is in the distance, off screen, or right in focus. That loud repetitive clacking is a constant reminder of the covert game of chess being played between the two sides at war within the alternate, darkened city of Buenos Aires that director Hugo Santiago has created. The sound work produces a meaningful ambience, signifying each location with subtlety and aiding a narrative which calls for constant movement across the expansive cityscape. There is even something playful about the use of music, which swings triumphantly one moment only to fall ominously the next. That is where Invasión is most comfortable, bogged down by dread and overwhelming circumstances. It is impossible to gauge just how long the fight will go on for, or how much our heroes will have to go through. Constantly pushing forward, running with no end in sight, it feels incessant. An unspoken desperation covers the face of every character, slowly draining them of life. For a film so full of details it still proves a giant mystery. We do not need to know why this is all happening, only that it must. That alone is enough to justify the struggle; for every invasion there will be a resistance. This hidden war is grounded by a sense of realism that adds to the tension and weight. Characters converse in cafes and while walking the streets, demonstrating that the world of the film is clearly our own, or at least that it could be. Over all of this hangs something great and disastrous, waiting to drop when time runs out. Even the noblest effort will only prolong the inevitable.

Often the screen is filled with as much black as possible, leaving us with only hands, faces, and distant circles of light floating in empty space. This approach strikes many of the night scenes as nightmarish, where hope finds itself lost in the heavy film grain and fuzzy glowing lights. There are moments where the cinematography and editing come together in a delightful unison, able to spring to life at the drop of a hat. The action scenes are kinetic and alive, swinging each and every way while cutting with reckless passion. Invasión can kick, but it also knows when to calm down. Beautiful wide perspective shots make the most of textured, organic locations, ripe for contemplation and brimming with aesthetic pleasure. Empty streets at night are cinematic paradises, rewarding both thematically and visually.  As the film progresses the structure loosens and a more intimate approach is taken to the characters, who by now have been put through a gauntlet and had their resolution tested. However, I feel the strength of Invasión lies not in the characters but in the overarching narrative cause, the invasion, and the way it projects itself to a level of universal relevancy, insuring the film only grows stronger with age. Credit should also be given to the mise-en-scène, which draws inspiration from all over the place and achieves a wonderful balance in doing so.

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