If there’s anything I’ve learned from being a film critic is that no matter what your expectations, prejudices, or inclinations, movies will always surprise. And not always in a good way. Ardor is unfortunately one of these films. Writer/director Pablo Fendrik tries to combine the dangers of life in the Argentinian rainforest with the fight to keep farmland from being taken from murderous mercenaries in an uninteresting film that will test your patience and bring into question what exactly Fendrik was going for.
Ardor begins with telling the audience that Argentinian farmers often called upon the water spirits when they found themselves in a situation that required their intervention. And while the film is meant to have a bit of a magical aura surrounding it, it feels too forced and tacked on to be taken seriously. A tiger appears a few times as a comparison to Kai (Gael Garcia Bernal). Unlike Mowgli’s tiger in the 1994 live-action The Jungle Book, which saw the tiger as the fears Mowgli had to overcome, Kai’s tiger was simply a badly-developed allegory that didn’t add anything to the story.
Garcia Bernal, who plays a farmer who’s lost everything and seeks to help another farmer and his daughter Vania (Alice Braga), sees his talents completely wasted here. Is his acting still good? Yes, he is, and what’s most disappointing is that the script doesn’t offer much for him to do other than hide and stare off into the distance. At first, we’re to assume that Garcia Bernal’s character is a water spirit himself, but this is made clear later on that his help was needed and so he stayed after drifting down the river. Very mystical, but not intriguing or useful to the film’s plot. Braga, whom Garcia Bernal shares chemistry with, also doesn’t get much to do and it becomes very frustrating as the film goes on. There is the obligatory sex scene, but it comes out of nowhere because there is nothing to indicate a possible relationship between the lead characters other than the fact they’re a man and a woman.
Perhaps Fendrik wanted to make this into a rainforest adventure with some romance and shootouts thrown in, but Ardor is a mess. The characters, who very much follow the path of underdogs, are not compelling in any way. Even the mercenaries, threatening as they are, don’t provide the film with the right amount of terror and this is because Fendrik’s pacing is too slow and his plot too thin, with very little dialogue to provide leverage. A movie you won’t regret missing out on.