Born and Bred

By Elzemieke de Tiege

born-and-bred-pablo-trapero.jpgBorn and Bred, 2006

Pablo Trapero is reputed as a director who shows, not tells, and Born and Bred lives up to this idea with excellence in both sight and sound

Born and Bred depicts the emotional struggle of Santiago (Guillermo Pfenning), a 35 year old Argentinean who feels responsible for a tragedy inflicted on his loved ones. The film boasts a moving performance of Pfenning set against haunting imagery of the enchanting south Argentinean landscape and underlined by the immersive natural soundscape crafted by Guillermo Pico and a rhythmic Latin score by Palo Pandolfo.

Opening at a dubious point in the life of introvert Santiago as he's questioning his wife's love and the stability of their marriage, Santiago, his wife Milli (Martina Gusman) and their daughter Josefina (Victoria Vescio) become the victims of a catastrophic accident Santiago appears to have lost his family forever. Torn by feelings of guilt and pain he flees the southern region of Patagonia in an attempt to deal with his bereavement in silent animosity.

In Patagonia Santiago turns to the vices he formerly denounced with his two colleagues Robert (Federico Esquerro) and Cacique (Tomas Lipan). Menial work, smoking, drugs, excessive alcohol and passionless sex darken his days. Nevertheless, intoxication and physical abandonment fail in easing his repressed emotions which repeatedly burst to the surface in the form of paranoid attacks and vomit. Santiago remains haunted by the ghosts of his recent past until he can't bear his self-inflicted punishment any longer and, with the help of Robert, finally manages to start untangling his internal conflict.

The story's reveal is slow and true to life. Nothing falls back into place magically or unexpectedly for Santiago, rendering the accumulating events simple and profoundly moving. The most touching moments are subtle, small yet powerful scenes which allow Santiago to give voice to his struggle and slowly accept reality.

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Love, loss, and pain are the main themes that Born and Bred addresses. These universally known emotions enable the viewer to sympathise with Santiago and thus motivate an understanding for his actions. The themes are enriched and bound together by the relationships in the film. Firstly, the slipping love between husband and wife and their shared adoration for their daughter, and later the growing bond between a traumatised Santiago, Robert and Cacique.

Born and Bred is idiosyncratic. Pablo Trapero has not only directed but also co-wrote, produced and co-edited the film. Trapero translates Santiago's feelings into visual language by appropriating image, colour and action to represent his inner turmoil. The location of an abandoned airport in the midst of an imposing, desolate landscape is one of the most august visual reflections of the internal emptiness and suppressed needs of the protagonist.

Guillermo Nieto's, Trapero's regular cinematographer, simultaneously creates an image of immense beauty and heart wrenching melancholy through sumptuously coloured, panoramic visuals. The rough, rural environment surrounding the protagonist compounds the irreversibility of death and loss whilst portraying the whimsical and unpredictable qualities of nature, elements which are also inherent in Santiago's personality. Imposing, primal and harmonious are words that come to mind when watching the extraordinary compositions captured by Nieto.

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Pfenning manages to carry the performance of an introvert and traumatised man with style. Throughout the film he continues to surprise and enthral, effectively complimenting Trapero's trademark of character-driven storyline. Equally captivating performances come from Esquerro, who plays the immature yet loyal friend to Santiago, and Lipan, an American Indian who moved to the region years earlier. Esquerro is particularly good in this role by not shying away from showing both Robert's charisma and his unsympathetic side.

With this much going for it, it is a shame that female characters are under-represented and not allowed nearly as much screen time as their male contemporaries. Gusman is strong on screen as Santiago's wife but her character doesn't reach beyond the limits of a wife and business partner, depicted from Santiago's point of view. In addition there are Josefina, his daughter, and Victoria, a relative who seems to be a key contact point between Santiago and his family yet is on screen for what must be less than two minutes. Later the story features three whores and Cacique's daughter whose lines are restricted to asking her father to come home. Despite presenting a deeply compelling account of the emotions of a man and a peek into the lives of two of his male friends the film is almost completely void of rounded female characters.

Inherently the story of Santiago and told from his point of view, Born and Bred is an intense character study which addresses the protagonists' torn emotions led by the idiosyncratic eye of Pablo Trapero. Watching Born and Bred is not a passive experience, it requires activity on the audience side by unravelling its slow reveal and visual symbolism. However, the film is a highly rewarding experience with its lustrous panoramic image best enjoyed on a cinema screen.

Elzemieke de Tiege is a writer and filmmaker. She lives in London.