The Wild Ones: Cannes Review

Harshly beautiful Argentinean drama about young delinquents adrift in the wilderness.

Visually striking debut about violent teen fugitives is both compelling and confusing.

CANNES - A gang of teenage delinquents escape from a prison-like reform school in Argentina before going on the run across a vast rural wilderness in this striking debut feature from screenwriter turned director Alejandro Fadel. Playing in the Critics’ Week section at Cannes, The Wild Ones feels like a strong contender for the Camera d’Or prize. It could also prove visually impressive and thematically universal enough to interest big-screen audiences beyond festival screenings, given the right marketing and critical buzz.

PHOTOS: Cannes 2012: Competition Lineup Features 'Cosmopolis,' 'Moonrise Kingdom,' 'Killing Them Softly'

Fadel is best known as a screenwriter of socially conscious thrillers for other Argentinean directors, most notably two-time Cannes veteran Pablo Trapero. So it is perhaps surprising that his graduation to directing is more that of a visual poet than wordsmith, allowing his elliptical story to unfold through a leisurely panorama of starkly beautiful landscapes inhabited by protagonists who barely speak. His young cast of non-professionals, four boys and one girl, were chosen for their similarity to their characters. As semi-feral outcasts inured to a lifestyle of drugs, violence and even murder, their understated performances are both convincing and curiously sympathetic.

PHOTOS: Cannes 2012: Opening Night Gala

As their journey unfolds, the story becomes more disjointed, the setting more timeless and mythic. A killer intrudes on the action, briefly and mysteriously, while the gang fall victim to internal friction and fatal accidents. There are some obvious cinematic echoes here - Walkabout, Lord of the Flies, Deliverance, Apocalypse Now even -- but Fadel never labours these fleeting, possibly accidental allusions. One of the joys of The Wild Ones is its formal purity, moving to its own elastic rhythm, enhanced by bold sound design that includes fizzing radio static and disembodied animal growls.

Fadel maintains an impressive control over his impressionistic, quasi-documentary narrative for the first 90 minutes, frequently pausing to linger on painterly pastoral tableaux worthy of primetime Terrence Malick. But his focus seems to slacken during the last half hour as the youngest of the gang is left alone, bonding with wild animals as he succumbs to ghostly hallucinations and impenetrable sacred rituals. This fable-like finale is dramatically unsatisfying and drags on too long, but even so, Fadel has made a haunting and engrossing debut.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Critics Week), May 17
Production company: Memento Films
Cast: Leonel Aranciba, Roberto Cowal, Sofia Brito, Martin Cotari, Cesar Roldan
Director: Alejandro Fadel
Producers: Agustina Llambi Campbell, Alejandro Fadel
Music: Sergio and Santiago Chotsurian
Director of photography: Julian Apezteguia
Sales agent: Artscope
Rating TBC, 119 minutes