BERLIN -- It takes courage to plunge into the psychological depths of sex and violence in "La Rabia," a dark exploration of human nature at its basest and most animal-like.
The tragedy of violence that erupts between two families on Argentina's remote Pampas is succinctly told in stark images and strongly etched, realistic characters that include two children. This is writer-director Albertina Carri's most pulled-together film so far and a shoo-in for festival exposure. Commercially, however, the atmospheric piece won't be an easy or even pleasant watch for most audiences, who should be sought among the niche admirers of Lucrecia Martel's "La Cienaga."
One caveat for countries like England is the graphic deaths of several animals in the film, including the particularly gruesome slaughter of a squealing sow and assorted off-camera drownings and shootings, not to mention a hare's bitter end after being chased by a pack of dogs. The opening disclaimer that the animals "lived and died as they naturally would" is pretty chilling in itself. Still the violence is never gratuitous, but an integral part of the film.
In a timeless dawn landscape of sky and pampas, little Nati (Nazarena Duarte) takes off her clothes. She is the mute daughter of Alejandra (Analia Couceyro) and Poldo (Victor Hugo Carrizo), whose farm is near that of Pichon (Javier Lorenzo) and his son Ladeado (Gonzalo Perez). It takes a while for viewers to sort out these five characters and realize that Alejandra is having a passionate, illicit affair with randy neighbor Pichon, right under the eyes of the children, both of whom seem disturbed.
Poldo, a gruff but loving father, tells Nati a ghost story to make her stop undressing outdoors; Alejandra warns her to stop drawing "dirty things." Pichon beats his son sadistically and allows Poldo to shoot the boy's dog, which may have raided a chicken coop.
More than plot development, the film moves forward through an escalation of menace and foreboding violence. Brutal sex scenes between Alejandra and Pichon alternate with squealing pigs and the threatening sound of Poldo's chain saw, Nati's high-pitched screams and a growling weasel Ladeado keeps secretly in the woods like a pet demon. A tip of the hat is owed here to Rufino Basavilbaso's eerie sound design.
Giving the film a very distinctive look are rapid-fire animated sequences designed by Manuel Barenboim to represent the disturbed, bloody fantasies of little Nati. They are well-integrated into the film, unlike an ill-conceived blast of rock music that breaks the mood of a night scene in desaturated colors, created by the film's fine cinematographer Sol Lopatin.
Film comes with the pedigree of director-producer Pablo Trapero's Matanza Cine productions.
Producer-director-screenwriter: Albertina Carri
Producer: Pablo Trapero
Executive producer: Martina Gusman
Director of photography: Sol Lopatin
Production and costume designer: Ana Cambre
Music: Gustavo Senmartin
Sound designer: Rufino Basavilbaso
Animation: Manuel Barenboim
Editor: Alejo Moguillansky
Victor Hugo Carrizo Nazarena Duart
Running time -- 83 minutes
No MPAA rating