‘Hunting Season’ (‘Temporada de caza’): Film Review | San Sebastian 2017

Newcomer Lautaro Bettoni stars in Natalia Garagiola’s debut feature ‘Hunting Season,’ winner of the audience award in Critics’ Week at Venice.

Norma Desmond’s famous line in Sunset Boulevard about silent movies not needing dialogue because “we had faces!” comes to mind during Natalia Garagiola’s moodily downbeat drama Hunting Season (Temporada de Caza), which relies on the characterful visages of its male leads for much of its impact. A well-crafted if fundamentally familiar tale of a hot-head belatedly coming of age with tough-love help from his crusty old man, the Argentinian production made a buzzy debut in Venice, winning the audience award in the Critics’ Week sidebar.

Bowing stateside at the Chicago Film Festival later this month, it is assured of a busy festival career over the coming year and may even eke out niche theatrical distribution here and there. Co-produced involving coin from Germany, France, Qatar and the U.S., it is the first “foreign” language enterprise supported by Gamechanger, a New York organization which only funds female-directed features. Garagiola is part of an impressive distaff wave in Argentinian filmmaking just now, joining the more established likes of Lucrecia Martel, Anahi Berneri and Milagros Mumenthaler.

The Bottom Line

Predictable debut hits emotional target.

Her debut focuses intently on masculine characters and their tricky relationships via the story of teenager Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni), a troubled, fiery high-schooler who starts violently acting out in the wake of his mother’s death from cancer. Lashing out once too often on the rugby pitch, he is exiled from Buenos Aires to the remote, windswept Patagonian farm where his biological dad Ernesto (German Palacios) resides with his new, much younger wife and their brood of daughters.

From this point, Hunting Season follows a well-trodden Good Will Hunting narrative arc, and it’s no surprise to see a stack of international development “labs” listed in the end credits. The cheekily rebellious Nahuel grudgingly learns to adapt to his new environment, and his frosty dealings with Ernesto gradually thaw towards a predictable denouement. New wine in old bottles, then, but the steely taste is nevertheless undeniably potent. Gonzalo Tobal, another feature debutant, edits in a manner which thankfully skirts hackneyed slow-cinema tropes. 

Garagiola handles proceedings throughout with a sure dramatic hand, making copious use of Santiago Fumagalli’s moody, string-heavy score (a nice contrast to Nahuel’s preferred hip-hop) and working in productive tandem with cinematographer Fernando Lockett. The favored lenser of critical darling Matias Pineiro — acclaimed for his text-heavy chamber pieces — Lockett revels in the great Patagonian outdoors here, hand-held widescreen images capturing the rugged majesty of the countryside in chilly, wintry tones of blue and shale-gray.

But the warm blood of Hunting Season pulses through the performances. Palacios, boasting a string of credits stretching back to the 1980s, holds the screen with dour, laconic charisma as the fiercely self-reliant and self-possessed hunting-guide Ernesto. In the crucial central role of Nahuel, greenhorn Bettoni copes manfully with much heavy emotional lifting as a psychologically bruised youth bursting with misplaced energy in a man’s body. A dead ringer for the young Jack Kerouac with a dash of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the glowering hunk socks over every step in Nahuel’s painful progression towards maturity as this boisterous young buck is knocked into shape by his grizzled old stag of a dad.

Production companies: Rei Cine, Augenschein, Les Films de l’EtrangerGamechanger
Cast: Lautaro Bettoni, German Palacios, Boy Olmi, Rita Pauls
Director-screenwriter: Natalia Garagiola
Producers: Benjamin Domenech, Maximilian Leo, Philippe Avril, Mynette Louie
Cinematographer: Fernando Lockett
Production designer: Marina Raggio
Costume designer: Victoria Nana
Editor: Gonzalo Tobal
Composer: Santiago Fumagalli
Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival (Horizontes Latinos)
Sales: Alpha Violet, Paris (info@alphaviolet.com)

In Spanish
108 minutes