October 2, 2014
The monster of fear lurking all around BA
For the Herald
Naishtat’s History of Fear invites audiences to ponder their deepest angst
“Make a scared face,” one character says to another in Benjamín Naishtat’s debut feature film, History of Fear. The young man responds with a perplexed look, as if he didn’t quite know how to satisfy the demand. But the truth is that the expression he takes doesn’t really matter; after all, the essence of this movie is that every single one of its characters, whatever face they make, constantly wears fear in their entire bodies.
History of Fear, released in BA theatres today after a much praised international premiere in the official competition of the Berlin Film Festival and after screening in the Argentine Competition at BAFICI, is said to depict Argentina’s current juncture of rising crime and the ensuing fear. Although partly true, this is not the most powerful aspect of the movie, for the crux of the matter is much more ambitious: what it attempts to do is venture into fear itself, not as a symptom afflicting so many Argentines, but rather as a disease the affects humanity as a whole.
The film tells the story of a somewhat connected group of people who live in a wealthy suburban neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Because there’s no clear storyline or plot, it is more accurate to say that what it does is illustrate the lives of these people, and more specifically their relationship with fear. To do this, Naishtat chooses not to narrate an elaborate story of theft and murder, but to show us snippets of their daily lives, to focus on the mundane events that trigger the racing-of-the-heart and the dilating-of-the-pupils. It is these human and rather primitive reactions that matter in the movie, the small hints of terror rather than the big bang of suspense.
We see a man going insane at a fast food restaurant, a house alarm going off for no reason, kids playing with firecrackers at the foot of the pool. It is interesting to notice that the only real moments of violence are shown in news broadcasts, and never in the day-to-day lives of the characters who watch them.
Told in a tone reminiscent of Lucrecia Martell’s The Swamp, Naishtat toys with the idea of potential danger that lurks constantly at every corner, and uses it to create a strange and awkward, but also quite enthralling, mood. It is essential to highlight the fantastic work of cinematographer Soledad Rodríguez, who manages to create a remarkable overall look throughout the whole of the movie.
What is most interesting about this film is the lack of a terrifying character. It quickly becomes clear that the director’s goal is not to make a political stand, but to create a sort of essay about the nature of fear. Fear can bring people apart and give way to a strange dichotomy of “us” versus “them,” where the identity of each is unclear, and yet it also creates in them a deep longing to be with their loved ones, or the more primitive need to just be with anybody, as long as it means not being alone.
History of Fear manages to explore this complexity, and comes to show that fear knows no social status, and that it is a double edged sword which can bring us apart just as easily as it can glue us together.
Historia del miedo (Argentina, France, Germany, Uruguay, 2014). Directed and written by Benjamín Naishtat. With: Jonathan Da Rosa, Tatiana Jiménez, Mirella Pascual, Claudia Cantero, Francisco Lu-merman. Cinematography by Soledad Rodríguez. Edited by Fernando Epstein, Andrés Quaranta. Pro-duced by Benjamin Domenech, Santiago Gallelli. Running time: 79 minutes.