Argentine maestro Pablo Trapero continues his upward trajectory as an artist fascinated by interior states of mind and exterior realities. Flirting with predictable tragedy but displaying an immense sense of empathy toward its central character, pic is finally an emotionally stunning journey of a father's return to his senses after a horrible accident.

With his fourth feature, “Born and Bred,” Argentine maestro Pablo Trapero continues his upward trajectory as an artist fascinated by interior states of mind and exterior realities. Flirting with predictable tragedy but displaying an immense sense of empathy toward its central character — with immense landscapes to match — pic is finally an emotionally stunning journey of a father’s return to his senses after a horrible accident. Though it will be a hard sell in the Yank market, other territories will line up, as will major fests.

Just as his seminal 1999 debut, “Crane World,” was followed by the startlingly different “El Bonarense,” so “Born and Bred” and its blend of intimate drama and loose-limbed sequences contrasts with his previous Altmanesque road movie, “Rolling Family.” New pic starts with a literally picture-perfect threesome — Guillermo Pfening as father Santiago, Martina Gusman as mother Milli and Victoria Vescio as young daughter Josefina –lovingly introduced.

Kitchen-sink realism has rarely looked so cinematic as the family members putter about their stunning, ultra-mod, nearly all-white home, and though Santiago and Milli allude to a bit of marital frustration after making love, their life is one that many would easily trade for. Santiago runs an apparently successful interior design biz, ergo the cool abode.

As is Trapero’s practice, little is explained and everything is shown, with his camera acting as if it’s the fourth family member.

A spontaneously planned trip to a relative’s country home sets the merry bunch on its way, but the sense that bad things are sure to happen momentarily overwhelms the film. An easily anticipated accident isn’t nearly as shocking as Trapero intends, but it’s a measure of his filmmaking prowess that when Santiago re-appears in a remote, snowy Patagonia forest hunting with Robert (Federico Esquerro), the aud is plunged into an entirely involving and new set of circumstances — and a wildly different environment.

State of mind and state of place are one in “Born and Bred,” as it’s gradually revealed that Santiago (now with longer, stringy hair and a sagging fatigue in his face) has left a hospital where he was mending and has exiled himself to what looks like the beyond of the beyond of Patagonia, Argentina’s windswept southern region. Bunking with Robert in a shack adjacent to the small airport where they work with Cacique (Tomas Lipan), Santiago keeps his past hidden and his feelings pent up.

But they come out in different ways: Nocturnal vomiting, sudden jolts of fear and trepidation as a passenger whenever Robert is behind the wheel of his truck. He hesitantly phones his mother in Buenos Aires from time to time, but Trapero and co-writer Mario Rulloni’s dialogue keeps it tantalizingly vague if Milli and Josefina are still alive.

The land, reminiscent to American eyes of sections of rural Alaska or the southern Wyoming of Richard Ford’s fiction (which tale closely resembles), dominates everything, and is a vital character in its own right. Pic is generous to Robert and Cacique as well, whose own personal problems receive just enough screen time so that they become fully rounded characters.

As in “Rolling Family,” Trapero is happy to just let his characters be for long sequences, as when the guys go a drunken all-nighter celebrating Robert’s new (unseen) baby, or when they laboriously maintain the tiny airstrip. But focus on Santiago and his return from his own personal damnation is never lost, resulting in a profoundly moving study of a man finding his own way to heal emotionally.

With such a demanding character, Pfening’s perf is notable for how uncalculated it is — mannerism never seeps in, especially when he trades in his old Santiago for the new bedraggled one. Support, particularly by Esquerro, is consistently engaging and warm.

Attention to every filmic detail is exquisitely applied, from Trapero’s regular lenser Guillermo Nieto creating a world of extreme remoteness in widescreen to a soundtrack filled with a vast range of natural sounds (care of Guillermo Picco) and a score mixing songs, whistling and guitar from three sources (Palo Pandolfo, Luis Chomicz and Las Voces Blancas).

Born and Bred

Argentina-Italy-U.K.

Production

An Axiom Films presentation of a Matanza Cine production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Pablo Trapero, Douglas Cummins. Executive producer, Martina Gusman. Co-producers, Rosanna Seregni, Rocio Freire-Bernat. Directed by Pablo Trapero. Screenplay, Trapero, Mario Rulloni.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Guillermo Nieto; editor, Ezequiel Borovinsky; music, Palo Pandolfo, Luis Chomicz, Las Voces Blancas; production designer, Pablo Maestre; sound (Dolby Digital), Guillermo Picco; associate producers, Marc Sillam, Walter Salles; casting, Maria Ines Teyssie. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 7, 2006. (Also in Rome Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Guillermo Pfening, Martina Gusman, Federico Esquerro, Tomas Lipan, Victoria Vescio. (Spanish dialogue)
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