Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 21, 2020 7:31 pm 
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Meeting up and making up

The 38-year-old Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Nicolas Pereda's Fauna is not part of the elite but more mainstream Main Slate but from the NYFF's "new and innovative" Currents series - a collection one needs to approach with an open mind. Pereda is working in an intentionally disjointed ironic minimalist manner. Partly this seventy-minute feature is dead serious, touching on Mexico's pervasive "narcos" issues in the first half and alluding to a disappeared activist miner in the second. But it's also playfully absurdist in its references to making up stories and acting. Little happens here and less makes fully coherent sense - the hardest kind of movie to summarize. But one hangs on every word as one did long ago with the plays of Eugène Ionesco. Pereda is clearly a sui generis original. This review constitutes a first look at a filmmaker who has made nine feature films. Pereda is a semi-surrealist/semi-abstract painter delighting in his ability to shape his own world at will, and his medium is his actors and his scenes.

Pereda likes to work with a few actors who are his friends. Critics complain this film is too offbeat and nonsensical to make any political points, but he wouldn't care; he has an international following and has received international accolades (see below). This is work that in part fits in with a playful strain in Latin American filmmaking one finds in Alonso Ruizpalacios (of Güeros ) or Alexis Dos Santos of the 2006 Glue, or the films of Fernando Eimbcke and even Gerardo Naranjo, though I don't quite see their charm here. He might owe something to the Iranian master Abbas Kiarastomi; one thinks of his Certified Copy.

Cigarettes, as in old Hollywood movies, are key narrative devices. Two siblings arrive separately in a small mining town to visit their parents. Sister Luisa (Luisa Pardo) is with boyfriend Paco (Francisco Barreiro); both are actors. Luisa’s estranged brother, Gabino (regular Pereda collaborator Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez), comes on his own. They both use GPS which doesn't work very well, and when the GPS tells them they've arrived at their destination, they don't believe it.

Paco goes to buy cigarettes; he and Gabino are both out. A guy has just bought out the little local shop and Paco begs the man to sell him and the man bargains hard. One gets the impression Paco has paid two or three times the price and been forced to buy two packs. Then when he goes inside, the man who has reamed him is Luisa's father (José Rodríguez López). Gabino insists on paying Paco 40 pesos for one pack. But when Paco tells him he's paid more than double, Gabino gets annoyed an demands the 40 pesos back.

Everyone seems disgruntled. They sit down to eat, but dad says the food tastes off and insists they go out, for "pizza," of to "the Oasis." At the Oasis, dad insists that since Paco has said he has a role in the "Narcos" TV series, he perform one of his scenes. Paco protests that so far, he has not had any lines. Dad still insists, so he does a mute scene. Not satisfied, dad presses further, insisting he should just make up lines. Paco winds up doing a whole scene speaking the lines of the lead actor in the series. Barriero really is in "Narcos" as a minor member of the Arellano Félix cartel family, and the lines he performs are actual ones that Pereda has painstakingly transcribed. When Paco has done the scene, dad presses him to do it again.

At night, Luisa is lying in bed with her mother, but can't sleep because she's nervous over an acting role. She wakes her mother up, and says the lines. Her mother says she's fine, but she would say them differently. She then does say them - and damned if she doesn't say them much better.

The second half is more fanciful, growing largely out of a slim novel that Gabino is reading. Luisa asks him to describe the book, and he proceeds to do so, apparently freely improvising. This becomes "a mystery involving a missing activist, an amateur investigator (Rodríguez), twin sisters named Flora and Fauna (both played by Pardo), a low-level criminal (Barreiro), and an unseen group of narcos with nefarious ties to the local mine." (I'm quoting from a long discussion of this film and interview with Pereda by Jordan Cronk in Cinema Scope, where readers may go if they want more information.)

But here, just as the jokey disagreeableness of the first part undercut the serious references to Mexico's drug cartel problem, jokes about Gabino mistakenly entering Fauna's room when they're staying at the same motel and "stealing" her towel and playful references to the fact that this is all about fantasy and imagination, disguise (because the actors are using wigs, Gabino with a full head of hair covering his shaven head), and the idea of improvisation and performance, undercut the references to gangsters involved in the mining industry and disappearing an investigator.

Many themes crop up in these sequences, but a key one is manipulation, the ability to alter the direction of others but the likelihood of oneself being misdirected.

Nicolás Pereda has made nine feature films, two medium-length films and two short films that have been presented at festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Locarno and Toronto, as well as in art galleries such as the Reina Sofía in Madrid, the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the Guggenheim and MoMa. His work has been the subject of 36 retrospectives worldwide at venues such as Anthology Film Archive, Pacific Film Archive, Jeonju International Film Festival, TIFF Cinematheque and Cineteca Nacional de México. He has received 30 awards in national and international festivals. In Mexico he has won the award for Best Mexican Film at the festivals of Guadalajara, Morelia, Guanajuato, Ficunam, Monterrey and Los Cabos. In 2010 he was awarded the Orizzonti Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Fauna, 70 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 16 and showed starting Sept. 19, 2020 at the virtual New York Film Festival, as part of which it was screened online for this review. It is also scheduled for the AFI Latin American Film Festival Sept. 27.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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