Malena (Barbara Lennie), a doctor from Buenos Aires, travels to a remote village to complete an illegal adoption arranged through the seemingly benevolent Dr. Costas. The adoption falls apart when the family of the biological parent asks for more money due to an accident affecting one of its chief wage earners. With the aid of a reluctant, but still supportive common law husband, Malena tries to meet this new demand, but the ground rules continue to shift, and desperate measures seem her only logical response.
Diego Lerman and co-writer Maria Meira have crafted a seamless mix of docudrama, character study and thriller that transcends the usual limitations of social realism. We see most of the action through the sympathetic, but middle-class eyes of Malena, who struggles with both her near inexpressible desire for a child and liberal good intentions. The poverty and corruption of life in rural Argentina, the film implies, is part of the same system that allows Malena and her husband to enjoy the good life in the city.