TRAILER: ‘El elefante desaparecido’ Fuses Magical Realism and Suspense for Peru’s Newest Crime Thriller

While Latin American literature may be inextricably associated with the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez, equally renowned authors like Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges brought the world a peculiar genre of self-referential, labyrinthine literature replete with logical puzzles and erudite wordplay. This tradition hasn’t been limited solely to the written word; for proof, one need only turn to Peruvian director Javier Fuentes-León’s second feature El elefante desaparecido (The Vanished Elephant).

True to form, the film’s synopsis is about as straightforward as an R.A. Dickey knuckleball, blending reality and fiction in ways that would make Fuentes-León’s Argentine forebears well up with pride. The film’s protagonist is a retired cop and crime novelist named Edo Celeste whose world is turned upside down when he receives a message from his long-disappeared wife, setting off a meta-fictional scavenger hunt that takes him to the farthest reaches of Peru. He meets strange figures along the way, who seem to be characters from the very novel he is writing.

Playing like a low-budget, South American take on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, which is itself inspired by a short story by Cortázar, The Vanished Elephant takes a fairly conventional approach to its otherwise formally dizzying narrative. The film’s widescreen aspect ratio keeps its focus primarily on slightly over-lit medium shots, and the acting seems just a bit stiff, but Fuentes-León certainly succeeds in creating a dense atmosphere full of suspense to keep us thoroughly engaged by this rabbit hole of a film.

The Vanished Elephant is playing this month as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Buzz sidebar after premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.