CATEGORIES Drama, Foreign Language, Theatrical Reviews, Festival Reports, Toronto International Film Festival, Cinematical Indie, Toronto Film Festival, Reviews, CinematicalWhen a movie's credit sequence is based around endless photographs of a blissful family, it's not hard to guess that the family will be ripped asunder before too long. And if that family is outrageously good-looking, disaster is practically assured. Both are true of Born and Bred, an Argentine film packed full of pain and suffering that nevertheless fails utterly to connect with its audience.
In reality, the most powerful moments of the film are the pre-crisis scenes. While there's nothing inherently interesting about watching a happy family interact in an outrageously adorable manner, or in seeing the man (Santiago, played by Guillermo Pfening) and wife (Martina Gusman as Milli) having great sex (If the perfection of their union was ever in doubt, those simultaneous orgasms cleared things right up.), the fact that we know something awful is about to happen infuses these everyday sequences with a wonderful, itchy tension. On several occasions the entire family is offscreen, communicating through friendly shouts from different parts of their gorgeous home. Suddenly realizing the unnamed horror might be heard and not seen, you're holding your breath in wicked anticipation, both praying everyone will walk safely back into shot, and secretly hoping for the scream of terror or pain that means the wait is at an end.
Disappointingly, the film and its director, Pablo Trapero, lose their tight control after the accident finally comes. We know Santiago survived because we see him, newly bearded, hunting in the snow with a new friend, but beyond that we have no idea what's happened. Santiago seems physically healthy, but mentally he's a wreck, tormented by terrible dreams and seized with periodic fears that he's on fire, or being followed. In a clear effort to escape the unmentioned aftermath of the accident, he's left his old life behind and moved to Patagonia to work physically demanding jobs with tough, rough men. Santiago is deeply unhappy and obviously hopes the desperate cold, unfamiliar company, and ever-flowing liquor will dull his pain, or at least help him forget it. Needless to say, nothing works.
The jarring, unannounced change of location from upper-class Buenos Aires to stark, windswept Patagonia is gripping and visually impressive, but it doesn't help the viewer identify with Santiago's misery. We watch him suffer in traditional, cliched ways -- he drinks a lot, refuses to open up to his friends, and periodically bursts into tears -- but we never really care about him. In reality, Santiago's new coworkers and friends (particularly Cacique, played with tremendous natural charm by Tomás Lipan) are much more likable than he. Whereas Santiago's appeal is built entirely upon his good looks and the fact that he love(s/ed) his family, his Patagonian coworkers are fully formed men with distinct, complex personalities; next to them, Santiago almost disappears.
It's rare to see such a solidly acted, visually arresting film fall so completely flat, but even a big emotional ending can't save Born and Bred. Obviously intended to have audiences sobbing as the credits roll, the film's conclusion in fact only diminishes its impact further, eliminating what little respect we had for Santiago and significantly decreasing the merit of his entire Patagonian sojourn. The problem, ultimately, is that the movie is so consumed by Santiago's showy suffering that it forgets to extend a hand to the audience; we're left totally outside the film's self-conscious emotional orbit and, as a result, don't care all about what's happening inside it.