Throw Substance from the Plane – Why Captain Koblic Deserves a Remake

It has often been a thorny issue in cinema – tackling the murky side of human nature and of course its darker episodes. At best, directors, writers and producers run the risk of being so compellingly accurate and explicit in their accounts of horrid histories that critics cry foul with accusations of turning tragedy into entertainment, or of abdicating responsibility to the audience or even using deeply emotive historical events to deliberately manipulate viewer emotions.

Such was the stance taken by Michael Hanneke in his repudiation of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993). On the other hand, filmmakers equally run the risk of understating the gravity of historical events or putting profound and disturbing episodes in history to subsidiary or ancillary use in stories that otherwise might not be so compelling.

Of course, if the director’ focus is pure entertainment, then Zack Snyder will be readily forgiven for the ludicrously inaccurate but visually engaging take on the battle of Thermopylae in 300 (2006). If, however, the intention is to convey a sense of accuracy, then one might be less forthcoming with absolution for the likes of Ridley Scott’s take on the history of Jerusalem or that of Christopher Columbus. Then there issue of jettisoning living human being from airplanes in a time within very recent living memory, which, arguably, has a greater resonance than these other distant historical happenings. This brings me to the sting in the tale Capitan Koblic.

Writer director, Sebastián Borensztein, takes on the legacy of the notorious Argentine Junta of the 1970’s (at least partially) in his latest offering – a story of an army pilot (Capitan Koblic of the film title, played by legendary Argentine actor Ricardo Darin) who has gone AWOL to a remote rural village somewhere beyond the pampas, fleeing certain appalling duties foisted upon him during his service. Arriving in the fictitious town of Colonia Elena, Koblic finds shelter, anonymity and a job as a flight mechanic with an old friend.

Soon, the viewer is being cajoled into liking Koblic as a man with troubled past, haunted by terrible nightmares, who has a soft heart for wounded dogs. Before long Koblic finds love too in the beautiful and enigmatic Nancy played by Spanish actress Inma Cuesta (of Pablo Berger’s Blancnieves (2012).

The oddly secretive love affair soon raises suspicions. Velarde is the grotesque local commissioner of police and utterly detestable local ears and eyes of the dictatorship, all too convincingly portrayed by Oscar Martínez, whose probing curiosity of the newcomer-to-town is fired to even greater heights when his close pal, who also happens to be Nancy’s brutish uncle, suddenly disappears.

Koblic’s real identity a man fleeing the junta is eventually exposed and he is suddenly faced with unenviable two options, return to the grisly military duties from which he fled with the hope the Junta will forgive his unsanctioned leave or stand and fight his ground.

Borensztein deserves some respect for bringing attention, in somewhat obtuse manner, to one aspect of the horrific extra judicial killings perpetrated by the Argentine Junta during its notorious hold on power in the seventies and early eighties. But, Borensztein has arguably abdicated a duty to the viewer to explore the issue with greater degree of probity.

Instead, he has placed the execution of prisoners of the Junta who were thrown (sometimes, sometimes not) drugged from flying aircraft as a background to a story which could otherwise be summarized as follows: “gang member falls out with gang boss. Gang member flees. Gang boss catches up with gang member. There is a shoot-out at the OK Corral.” If it were a classic western, you would be rooting for Blondie. Indeed, the mood is quintessentially western, only, Koblic is no Blondie.

To start with past is far too shady to be explained away in one flight. The viewer is never quite sure if he is or can be a likeable character. This credibility issue is compounded by the introduction of Koblic’s love interest, which seems insincere and at times feels like gratuitous padding to a story which ought to have been filled with more of the subject matter which vexes the viewer.

It is as though the director wants you to be aware of Koblic’s past but then forget about it, which, frankly, is an impossible ask. The weight of horror hanging around the viewer’s neck is far to compelling. The denouement is all the more unsatisfactory and perhaps even irresponsible.

It is as though the director views his fantasy revenge as an adequate panacea for the evil that he made so prominent at the outset of the film. Ironically, the character that the audience is very carefully driven to despise the most, turns out to be the most credible and the linchpin for the entire story.

There is an argument to be made about a director’s responsibility to his or her audience. It may not require all the answers to all the questions raised, but it is surely not to be to leave unnecessary doubts about the seriousness of the issues he or she puts on the table by teasing the audience with substance and then abandoning it in favour of unworthy clichés.

Capitan Koblic (2016) is a Spanish-Argentine co-production subtitled in English, directed by Sebastián Borensztein and starring Ricardo Darin, Inma Cuesta and Oscar Martinez. It is on general release.