Pablo Trapero, "Born and Bred" About Desperation By Klaus Eder
by Klaus Eder
Beginning with Crane World (Mundo grúa, 1999), his first international success, Pablo Trapero (born 1971) has built a considerable career. He is considered one of the protagonists of the new and young cinema of the last decade that introduced another tone and style into Argentinean cinema. His films are basically realistic and observant of social conditions, particularly in Buenos Aires (where he lives). Often he talks about lower classes — workers, policemen, poor families. This cinema of a concrete and detailed view of society is far from the big themes, the philosophical-ideological essays of, say, Fernando Solanas, even if Solanas, with his ongoing political engagement, may have influenced Trapero’s generation.
In Born and Bred (Nacido y criado, 2006), his latest film, Trapero tries (successfully) to discover new ways of narration and to extend his filmic universe. It’s a surprising film which one wouldn’t have expected. Set in the beginning again in Buenos Aires, this time Trapero focuses on a middle-class family. He doesn’t tell much of a story. He thinks in images. He bypasses visible reality (which has always been dominant in his earlier films) to attain a sort of ‘magic realism’ (a term which you would use if it were a Brazilian film). He does not speak about social conditions but rather of the inward, dark tragedy of losing those whom one loves most.
The film begins with landscapes. They are far away, unreal, of a distant beauty, the overall impression underscored by the music. Then we get acquainted with a rather well-situated family: Santiago, his wife, Milli, and their daughter, Josefina. They run a successful business of designers. Trapero takes around 10 or 15 film minutes to show their good life, without serious problems or conflicts. He drafts an idyllic portrait of a harmonious bourgeois existence. These opening scenes are conventionally narrated, without any specific point of view, and if there weren’t the irritating landscapes in the very beginning, you would ask if you’re indeed watching a Trapero film. The landscapes, however, signal that something unexpected will be happening.
It happens. On a trip out of the city, their car crashes, plunges down a slope, goes up in flames. The scene dims and the screen goes white. Only Santiago’s cries for help are to be heard. We witness a devastating catastrophe.
We awake in another world, a remote Patagonian valley (the landscape from the beginning), developed with another rhythm, another light, another color, another feeling. Months have passed. Santiago has found a job there. He does not know, and we do not know, if his wife and daughter survived. It is as if we were in another film: Instead of a bourgeois idyll, we face the internal drama of a deeply desperate man.
The landscapes are again of a distant beauty. A pale light, without major contrasts (no sun, no shadows). They look empty, as if no human being has ever been there. It’s almost an apocalyptic vision. Of course, this is a projection of the internal mood and morale of Santiago (Guillermo Pfenning). But it has its own appeal and poetry and perfectly serves to create the impression of a lost world in which Santiago is desperately trying to get some ground under his feet. These are images of immense loneliness.
Together with some colleagues from the region, he works at a small airport. It’s more a parody of an airport, because it imitates the behavior and procedures of a real airport. It has only one shabby building and few passengers and has almost no planes. (It does have one of those old, small, two-propeller machines that can land anywhere). Trapero shows, in beautiful documentary-like views of faces, a group of workers who share not only work but also their evenings and weekends. Friendships arise. Santiago, the intellectual from Buenos Aires, is one of them — and is not. He’s haunted by his past, his memories of the family, the accident. They overwhelm him over and over.
Trapero does not need to show and explain this. There’s not much spoken in those scenes. It is to be understood without words, by images ‘only’. The internal drama functions not because it is a big or important or urgent one but because it’s embedded in a depressing vision of the world. After some time, you ask yourself where you are — in a real Patagonia or in a dark image of a man’s soul. Never before has Trapero managed to create such a significant and original filmic universe. Never before has he composed a film in such an artful manner.
The story has an end, which, however, might not be an end at all. From time to time, Santiago has been phoning his mother-in-law in Buenos Aires to get some news of his family, but the news never gets through. Only after her death does he manage to speak to his wife (no news about the daughter). He leaves Patagonia and returns to Buenos Aires.
What a scene when he finally meets his wife (Martína Gusman) on the street in front of her house, and we see her face into which pain has dug deep traces. They don’t speak, but attempt a cautious, slow, and shy gesture of coming again close to each other. As Trapero has by then alienated us from reality, this scene could also have been imagined. What, after all, is real in Trapero’s world?
If there’s a message, it is that time does not heal all wounds.
If you tell the story, it’s banal and melodramatic. You can also say that Born and Bred disintegrates into two films, one in Buenos Aires and one in Patagonia. But if you see it as a poetic essay about desperation, Trapero has made his best and most daring film.