Argentinian film director Natalia Garagiola wrote and directed 3 short films between 2011 and 2014, two of which (Mares and Parakeets, 2012 and Sundays, 2014) premiered at Festival de Cannes. Her debut feature, Hunting Season (Temporada de Caza, 2017), premiered during the International Critics’ Week of the 74th Venice International Film Festival – and promptly won the SIAE Audience Award.
The film opens up with a fight among teenagers on a sports field – this is where we meet the angry, bloodied-up Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni) for the very first time and immediately sense that there must be a painful backstory that spurred the angry silence of the teen – his closed-off attitude and the expulsion from the school due to violent behaviour bring his father, Bautista (Boy Olmi), to tearily send him off – to another man, Ernesto (Germán Palacios), who turns out to be Nahuel’s biological father. He is a hunting guide in the half-wild mountainous part of Patagonia, where he lives with his new family. Just like the pair of deer bucks we see clash their antlers in the steppe-like Patagonian plains, the son and the father, through a series of both physical and mental clashes that are pushing at the limits of both, struggle to find a balance that would allow them to fix their deteriorated relationship.
While at first, there seem to be two core characters to Hunting Season, there is another, third entity at the back and at the fore of the story, utilized so well that it is no wonder the film captivated the minds and capture the hearts of audience in Venice: nature. The wide shots of Patagonia’s natural sights, along with nature fiercely and mercilessly reflecting the relationship of the two – cold, weeping and distant at first, angry and destructive during the time of their battles and more demure and accepting towards the end – are shot with the precise intention of emphasizing the running emotions of the film to the dot; cinematographer Fernando Lockett did a great job capturing it.
Life and death change hands a lot in the film, and there is a feeling of constant tension that makes the audience wonder just how far the story intends to take us. In part, this is due to the dramatic score by Juan Tobal – the tension that rides on his notes, especially after seeing the entire film, feels a bit overdone. But that does not mean that there is a lack of drama; far from it. There are a few moments when the tension is more than justified; especially when Ernesto, at his wits’ end, decides to teach Nahuel how to shoot a rifle as a means of helping him to calm down and focus. Shortly after, Nahuel aims the rifle at the unknowing Ernesto – the moment is very short, but powerful, as it clearly channels Nahuel’s struggle. Similarly powerful moment comes almost at the end of the film, when Nahuel tests his own capability to hunt and to kill.
In terms of acting, Germán Palacios did great with his potrayal of the closed-off Ernesto, and the emotional performance of Boy Olmi is solid, but it needs to be said that the characters of the two sometimes come off as complete polar opposites, which is quite cliché. As for the newcomer Lautaro Bettoni… For the most part, his acting (especially in solo moments) very much makes the grade, but there are some moments, especially in scenes with high emotional charge, when his acting seems to be a bit (and not deliberately) awkward; still, there is no denying that he has a lot of potential.
Given that Hunting Season is her first feature, Natalia Garagiola did a splendid job. It cannot be denied that there are some moments when the relationship of the two main characters is portrayed through an unmistakeably female viewpoint, but it does not really disturb or add to the flow of the film – the balance may be shaky at times, but it manages to pull through. Even with certain cliché elements and the occasional overflow of tension that culminates in a neat ending, the film still succeeds in being touching, and it shows enough promise to evoke interest in Garagiola, who is currently already working on her second feature.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © ALPHA VIOLET