What does “Swiss bank” bring to mind? A numbered account? Secrecy about ill-gotten gains? Do you think of politics and class warfare? Azor, from Swiss director Andreas Fontana, shows us a bit of that behind the curtain world. Sure, its about money, but even more, it is about power.
Yvan De Wiel, a private banker from Geneva, and his wife Ines have just arrived in Argentina after the mysterious departure of his business partner. The year is 1980 and the “Dirty War” against political dissidents is underway. (We only see a bit of this on the street as the De Wiel’s are on their way to their plush hotel, but it is an ever-present tension in the air as we move through the film. Yvan has come to meet with various clients—all part of the upper-class. This is a world of estates, race horses, elite dinner parties. He is there to reassure them and to make sure he can keep their business as the Swiss commercial banks have begun to cater to the clientele that have relied on private Swiss banks.
The film uses Yvan’s partner’s absence to build some tension, especially when Yvan finds a note in the partner’s apartment with an unknown client’s name. Throughout the film Yvan always seems a bit on edge. Is that because he’s just not that good dealing with people (Ines does that much better), or because he’s uncomfortable with the Argentine situation?
The director’s grandfather had been a private banker. It was in trying to learn about his grandfather’s past that he began to dig into the world of Swiss banking and developed this story. He uses Yvan’s journey as a way of looking into the way Swiss banking has provided safety to the upper-classes and to dictators through the years. It has also served to help in the funding of repressive regimes, as Yvan ends up doing—and feeling a bit proud about himself.
In more recent years some of the Swiss banks (at least the large commercial banks) have faced some revelations about money laundering, tax evasion, and the way they have supported oppression and torture. In this film we see a banker who may or may not be comfortable with those facts, but takes part because it is his business. It may be somewhat cynical to see him as soulless, but what soul he has is clearly damaged in the process. Maybe that is what happened to his partner.
Azor is showing in select theaters.
Photos courtesy of Mubi.