A family drama without the drama, Nicolas Grosso’s debut, “Animal Run,” stumbles in its experiment to show what happens among siblings of a factory owner whose business is in crisis. Ellipses can be wonderful, but Grosso’s love of the device goes too far, to the point where a potentially fascinating account from the uncommon p.o.v. of company bosses tilts over into near-obscurantism. An intense focus on actors and a vivid use of high-grain black-and-white 16mm could prove attractive to select fests — pic won the Buenos Aires festival’s Argentine competition — but the run stops there.
Grosso worked as a.d. on Matias Pineiro’s “Castro,” and here his almost-total attention to his thesps at the expense of most other elements of the film also makes him kin with Pineiro, albeit in service of a significantly slower-paced film.
First seen leaving his office surreptitiously, and removing some old photos from a desk drawer, Valentin (Julian Tello) is silently tailed by workers from his father’s factory. The firm is in crisis, for reasons never fully explained (though the workers’ union reorganization contributes to it), and Valentin’s father has gone into hiding in a hotel somewhere in the provinces. Older brother Candido (swarthy Lautaro Vilo) relays to Valentin their father’s recent missives that the pair is to take control of the business; Candido looks far more likely to wage war with the union than the more reserved and reluctant Valentin.
To help facilitate this process, Dad has deployed the mysterious Ana Madrid Madrid (Valeria Lois) — whom Candido claims he distrusts — to assist the brothers in the power transfer. Valentin, insisting that he’s even willing to give up his share of any future inheritance, seems to want to stay as far away as possible from whatever’s going on — which in this film is certainly more than a little unknowable — and find a safe haven when bullets start to fly.
Grosso is too interested in exploring cinema language to tell a conventional family drama, but his screenplay also offers enough detail and background to tease curiosity about the events in and around the factory, which he rigorously excludes from the film.
The central problem with “Animal’s Run” is that the alternatives, both visually and narratively, aren’t interesting enough to belay the multitude of questions about what’s actually going on, and actor Tello is simply not a vital enough presence at the film’s center to fill the wide-open spaces.
Other cast members, such as Lois, Vilo and Gonzalo Martinez as Valentin’s friend, manage to add some energy, while Gustavo Biazzi’s black-and-white imagery heightens 16mm celluloid to a plastic level, even when projected in an HD transfer. The group Pommez Internacional contribute a spare score stuffed with an itchy nervousness that would have been good to see expressed as much onscreen as it is on the soundtrack.