Portraying an unwaveringly bleak image of life in the Argentinian pampas, La Rabia is hard viewing indeed, but will reward those who manage to endure it.
Two families live nearby each other and their children are friends. Ladeado (Gonzalo Pérez) and his father farm their land but are plagued by weasels that like to kill their chickens. Nati (Nazarena Duarte) is mute, and her mother is having an affair with Ladeado’s father, as Nati’s father is a violent man who treats his family with little respect. Witnessing her mother’s sexuality and having no way to understand it, Nati will explore her own nakedness and depictions of the naked form, and against the backdrop of a casually brutal society the consequences for both children may be disastrous.
Watching La Rabia will certainly be too difficult for many, with the cruelty on display distinctly unpleasant, and depictions of violent sex and child abuse that may disturb. It isn’t only humans that suffer either, with the disclaimer at the beginning of the film warning enough – ‘animals in this film lived and died as they would naturally’ (or similar, I paraphrase). This contravention of English-language film convention (‘No animals were harmed in the making of this film’) provoked laughter in my screening at MIFF, but perhaps no-one was expecting to see a boar’s throat cut and the animal drained of its blood before being shaved, eviscerated and quartered for cooking. Viewers shocked by the blunt but rather sterile portrayal of animal slaughter and meat preparation in Fast Food Nation may well find La Rabia harder to stomach.
This isn’t to say that the violence on display (either directed at animals or people) is gratuitous or out-of-place – it is essential to the depiction of life in this community. That one child would be mute and the other so disturbed by his upbringing that what comes later is understandable, must be grounded in some brutal truth, and the violence of the film goes part of the way to telling that story.
The performances of the children are adequate without ever being exceptional, but this may be a hard ask for any actor let alone ones so young. The adult roles are solid but not spectacular, but it is the fabric of the community that is being portrayed here and no one performance needed to stand out.
Writer/director Albertina Carri uses intermittent animation sequences to punctuate her points and signpost the turmoil inside the head of her most vulnerable character. These generally work well to illustrate the grief Nati experiences, although they occasionally feel too long and break up the flow of the live action.
That a film so unremitting can succeed is testament to Carri’s skill, as it would be easy to over-balance into either melodrama or gratuitous brutality. Unpleasant and not for everyone, but certainly worth the effort. Recommended.Rating: