Review: The Mystery of Happiness

Santiago (Guillermo Francella) and Eugenio (Fabián Arenillas) are longtime friends and business partners. They seem to be as in sync as best friends are when they are children, and then one day Eugenio disappears without a trace. Nothing about the timing of it makes any sense. Disconsolate Eugenio’s wife, Laura (Inés Estévez), shows up seeking to help run the business and find her husband. As they search they want to know what prompted this and how well they really knew him.

The Mystery of Happiness balances elements of comedy and drama, offering insights about life, as well as sensitive touches and laughs much the way last year’s Dos más Dos did, which is also an Argentine film. The main difference being that this film doesn’t begin with a subject matter as inherently humorous and over the top.

While the film introduces in Santiago and Laura comedic foils, but where there is a delicate touch in this film is the way in which it easily introduces a dual examination of relationships of two different types: best friend/business partner and spouse. The way the examination is conducted is also wise: with Eugenio being practically a ghost each deserted party is left to wonder about his/her respective relationship and also give their impression of the other pair.

One way in which this film makes itself a touch unique is through the quirky private eye character that is brought into the fray. Oudukian (Alejandro Awada) is an enigmatic figure who through his unrevealed life experience, and his arcane approach to interpersonal relationship examination steers the abandoned wife and business partner in the right direction. In essence, he acts more like a guide, a guru, rather than a traditional private eye, and the main characters conduct the search. This works fine because it allows the world of this story to stay small and this small mysterious character to stay shrouded.

This film begins with a sumptuous montage of Santiago and Eugenio walking about enjoying various activities. It establishes their seemingly inseparable nature, and also sets a tone for the visual approach to storytelling in this film. As per usual, it sounds ridiculous to laud a film for a visual storytelling approach as it is a visual medium, but the fact of the matter is being dialogue-heavy is a very easy trap to fall into, for comedies especially. In this film, however, many of the key moments are conveyed entirely in visuals: the opening, the montage then mirrored and the conclusion and denouement are specific, important examples.

The Mystery of Happiness is a funny and moving story that finds people in search of answers about relationships they thought they had. The literal disappearance of Eugenio symbolizes the vanishing of stability in their lives and is a classic example of a MacGuffin. The film balances its funnier moments with heartfelt, bittersweet ones. This is occasionally underscored by music which is always brilliant especially Nico Cota’s re-orchestration of “Aquarela do Brasil.” The Mystery of Happiness is now available to stream and on DVD and is most definitely worth viewing if you want to see a mature dramedy that’s not afraid to take things seriously as well.