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Visually austere and formally rigorous, Benjamin Naishtat’s 70-minute feature is a stark historical parable of frontier life on the Pampas more than 150 years ago, prior to the unification of Argentina as a nation. Defiantly non-commercial, the film could benefit from further festival play and potentially gain more exposure on digital platforms.
Naishtat signals his provocative intent from the opening scene, shot in inky black-and-white HD and framed in a nearly square aspect ratio, as it depicts a band of former soldiers entertaining themselves by harassing and then murdering a local farmer by blowing his head off with a canon. The next scene, although less violent, is equally disturbing, as a trio of ruffians help themselves to an elderly farmer’s meager harvest while they openly discuss their plans to rustle his cattle and perhaps kidnap his teenage daughter, inflicting further trauma after the recent murder of his wife at the hands of another bandit group.
The group’s leader, a middle-aged man known only as Señor (Pablo Cedron), claims to represent an emerging political organization that will help unite Argentina’s various competing factions after a prolonged period of internecine wars, banishing the wave of anarchy dominating the region during the early 19th Century. As he travels the desolate countryside with his two followers, he harangues residents to attend an upcoming meeting where he will reveal The Movement’s plans for unification, although he fails to reveal any affiliation or official status that might appease people’s concerns about his violent methods of persuasion.
Naishtat shot the film with support from Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival, where he won an award for his 2014 debut feature History of Fear. The festival grant required him to complete a film of at least 60 minutes within a very limited budget and timeframe. Those stipulations persuaded him to select primarily handheld, black-and-white cinematography, constrain the framing of scenes and almost entirely forego artificial lighting in order to minimize expenses.
The budgetary and creative exigencies prompted some interesting creative choices, as Naishtat forces his rough-hewn characters into the center of the frame for their stagy, frequently declamatory line readings. The meager plot is frequently disjointed and performances are intentionally unpolished, resulting in a sometimes disorientingly expressionistic visual style. It’s not a particularly attractive approach, but it adequately conveys the violence and disorder of the period.
Production companies: Pucara Cine, Varsovia Films
Cast: Pablo Cedron, Marcelo Pompei, Francisco Lumerman, Celine Latil, Alberto Suarez, Agustin Rittano
Director-writer: Benjamin Naishtat
Producers: Federico Eibuszyc, Barbara Sarasola Day, Diego Dubcovsky
Executive producers: Federico Eibuszyc, Barbara Sarasola Day, Ko Suk-Man
Director of photography: Yarara Rodriguez
Production designers: Marina Raggio, Laura Aguerrebehere
Costume designer: Jam Monti
Editors: Andres Quaranta
Music: Pedro Irusta
Casting: Maria Laura Berch, Florencia Percia
Not rated, 70 minutes
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