Historia del miedo (History of Fear) Review

Posted: March 13, 2014 in 2014 Berlinale, Drama, Foreign, Reviews
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ImageHistoria del miedo (History of Fear) was clearly one of the best films in the Forum section at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February. The Forum is home for the more experimental and avant-garde works shown in the program and often provides a first look at outstanding, upcoming talent. Historia del miedo, directed and written by Benjamin Naishtat, serves as an example of just that. In his first feature, Naishtat offers a work that is all atmosphere and mise-en-scène, effectively establishing a time and place where paranoia and anxiety touch every aspect of life inside and outside a gated community.

In fact, there was only one real problem with its showing at Berlinale – Historia del Miedo was not entered in the Forum section. Instead, it was presented in the Competition division of Berlinale, where it was compared to the films of heavyweights like Richard Linklater (Boyhood) and Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel). Throwing Naishtat into that arena was akin to matching up a Golden Gloves amateur against a champion prize fighter. The result was no contest.

What most distinguishes Historia del miedo from the other films in the top echelon at Berlinale is the absence of a narrative. That is not a criticism. It is a statement of fact. Naishtat spends the entire 75 minutes establishing the status quo. The situation does not change. Characters move across the screen, but do not develop. Individual scenes work well, but do not mesh in support of a coherent purpose.

Despite the title, the prevailing emotion here is not fear, but paranoia, and the effect is similar to that seen in O som ao Redor (Neighboring Sounds), the 2012 Brazilian movie that showed a middle class neighborhood in Recife slowly suffocating in a haze of urban anxiety. The setting here is suburban Argentina, but the subtext is the same.

The first scene of the film is shot from a helicopter with an unseen voice warning squatters and others that they must clear areas of the illegal settlement. Shortly after, a young man breaks down in a strange fit while waiting in a line in a fast food restaurant. Trash is strewn, and fires are set just outside the fence of a heavily guarded community where weary residents abandon their houses and flag down passing vehicles when a home alarm is tripped by mistake during daylight hours. All are no more than pieces to an undefined puzzle. When the film ends, you half expect it to begin again immediately as if it were a video exhibit at a contemporary art gallery.

Four stars for those looking for experimental fare; one star for those who are not.

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