Amat Escalante lets rip with The Untamed
by Gonzalo Suárez
- VENICE 2016: The Mexican director astonishes and delights audiences in competition at Venice as he blends his usual realism and starkness with fantasy and horror elements
“Reality has somehow already overtaken fiction, so I had to look for answers elsewhere.” The first words of Amat Escalante at the press conference following the presentation of The Untamed [+see also:
film profile], in competition for the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice Film Festival, are a perfect reflection of the impact that the first image in his latest feature has on us: it shows a meteorite adrift in space. The brilliant director of the brutal Heli [+see also:
film profile] “could no longer find a way to explain certain human actions”, and decided to rely on the fantasy and especially horror genres to continue exploring all the injustice in the world.
Ángel and Alejandra live with their two small children in the Bajío (lowlands) of Mexico. Ángel is a builder while Alejandra takes care of the house and is employed by her husband’s family business. Her brother, Fabián, works as a hospital nurse. The stagnant relationship that exists between the three of them threatens to come to a head at any moment, but the arrival of young Verónica will grant the weakest figures in this microcosm of society a promise: that in a cabin tucked away in the middle of the woods lurks something from another world, which could solve all of their problems – for better or for worse.
The unpredictable storyline of The Untamed swings between two representative settings that will have to confront one another sooner or later: the social realism of the city and the fantastic element of the woods. The way the plot develops keeps our eyes glued to the screen, not so much because of the scintillating performances of the actors, but rather because of the director’s skill, as he really shows off his repertoire both to depict rawness and injustice, and to hint at an element of supernatural mystery. However, one suspects that Escalante’s formal skill hides an immense underlying sorrow. It is as if with The Untamed, the director of Sangre [+see also:
film profile] and The Bastards [+see also:
film profile] were lamenting that the head-on approach and harshness he has used in the past have borne no fruit, and he is now trying to tell us that the scourges of violence, chauvinism and the rejection of diversity have reached such unbearable proportions for him that the only option is to find a way of drawing nearer to some kind of original source, perhaps love – a force of life and death that we feel is unknown or that we have forgotten, but without which this world is already becoming completely uninhabitable.
The Untamed is a major co-production between Mexico and Europe (through Snowglobe and Adomeit Film in Denmark, Le Pacte in France, The Match Factory and ZDF/ARTE in Germany, Mer Film in Norway, and Bord Cadre Films in Switzerland). The Match Factory is also in charge of its international sales.
(Translated from Spanish)