A wealthy man falls madly in love with a sheep in Argentine novelist-playwright Sergio Bizzio’s directing bow “Animal,” a surreal black comedy with overtones of Bunuel. Intermittently funny and macabre while taking a good poke at the useless upper classes, the prize-winning screenplay loses some of its irony through pedestrian screen work and acting. Pic is most noteworthy for a handful of startling, barely offscreen scenes of bestiality, which come off deadly serious. Lacking the transgressive sensuality of a filmmaker like Walerian Borowczyk, or the comforting explanation that the hero is a loony, these scenes are hard to mesh with the film’s generally farcical tone and could be a little disturbing to the hip arthouse viewers to whom pic is addressed. Subject matter should nonetheless stir up some interest on various offshore video shelves.
After 29 years of marriage, Alberto (Carlos Roffe) and his socialite frau, Natalie (Cristina Banegas), have little to say to each other. While on summer vacation at their ranch, Alberto suddenly notices a fluffy white sheep and has his overseer, Miranda (Pepe Monje), put it in the barn. That night, overcome with lust, he gives in to an urgent desire to visit “Fanny.” Natalie begins to notice a funny smell on Alberto’s clothes and accidentally witnesses his showdown with the overseer, who has also noticed the sheep’s attractiveness.
But unlike the lustful Miranda, Alberto is deeply in love with Fanny. In a delicate scene full of ambiguous nuances, he tries to teach her to pronounce his name, recognizing what he wants to hear in her inarticulate bleating. He becomes mortally jealous of a black ram and finally stages a marriage ceremony on the lawn to cement his love. Alberto ruthlessly eliminates all those who refuse to understand his feelings, and story slips into blood-soaked horror mode.
In its best moments, the film shows some wicked insights into the characters: Natalie’s exotic paintings all depict herself, while Miranda’s raunchy pals treat women like animals. Writer-director Bizzio’s chief difficulty is finding a consistent tone to unite all his ideas. Pic veers from tragic love story to black comedy, from irony to gruesome horror, without much control.
Apart from the severely distinguished Roffe, who gamely gives life to the ambiguous Alberto, and a restrained perf from Fanny, cast has an under-directed look.