Screening at this year’s London Film Festival, Andreas Fontana’s feature debut Azor has a lot going for it. From the distribution backing of MUBI to an international production aided by companies in Argentina, Switzerland, and France, this fictionalised period piece has the potential to land with audiences. Sadly, its convoluted plot, disinteresting characters, and muddy pacing leave Azor as a lot less than the sum of its parts.

The film follows Yvan (Fabrizio Rongione), a Swiss banker tasked with travelling to a dictator-stricken Argentina to help plug financial gaps left by his partner, Keys. For Yvan and his wife Magdalena, it’s a rapid change, adjusting to a world where nobody can quite be trusted, and renowned figures are disappearing daily. What follows is Yvan’s careful navigation of this new terrain, balancing his morals with the need to keep his head down and do as he’s told – for fear of suffering the same fate as Keys.

While the premise definitely has some exciting chops, Azor is never quite able to reach the heights suggested by its premise. That’s down to no fault of the performances — Rongione is a highlight, particularly in the final shot — but more through a screenplay that’s as dry as it is disorienting. Written by Fontana and Mariano Llinás, there just isn’t enough meat on the bone. Characters come and go from the ensemble without much introduction or explanation, and there isn’t enough wit or sharp dialogue to break up long droves of heavy dialogue.

Of course, part of that is the point; Azor wants you to feel the same sort of exclusion and dumbfoundedness bestowed upon Yvan. You aren’t meant to remember each and every character, or every small exchange. Instead, you’re meant to ask questions in the same why Yvan does: where his partner is, what role he plays in the new regime, and so on. Sadly, the answers to these questions aren’t compelling or detailed enough to leave you wanting to find out the answers.

It’s a shame, because while Azor‘s plot falters, the visual elements are quite gripping. It’s set in 1980s Buenos Aires, and production design soars here, with lavish swimming pools, extravagant hotels, and period-realistic vehicles. The same can be said for some of the societal comment drilled into the script. Magdalena has several conversations with the wives of Yvan’s colleagues, discussing how suffocating this patriarchal setup is, and how they’re little more than lavish accessories for the men to show off. It’s stuff like this — the social commentary, themes of loyalty and silence, and the nuances within this world — that should be the focus on Azor, but that sadly doesn’t happen.

What we’re left with is a political thriller that’s never quite thrilling enough. When the final credits roll, you’ll be left more than anything with a barrage of unanswered questions – and the feeling that a final-minute twist never quite feels earned. It’s disappointing, because what could’ve been a strong period piece instead becomes a chore to follow.

★★