Active Ingredients: Discursive narrative; Intersecting web of characters
Side Effects: Flat, unaffected performances; Imprecision of style
Argentinian director Martín Rejtman’s new film Two Shots Fired is an offbeat, serio-comic riff featuring a collection of entangled stories. Rejtman is an important voice in modern Argentinian cinema, and Two Shots Fired premiers as part of a retrospective of his work at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center. “Sounds Like Music: The Films of Martín Rejtman” will run from May 13 to May 19.
In Two Shots Fired, lazy, aimless malaise seems to spread like a virus. It begins with Mariano, an ostensibly normal middle-class Argentine, coming home from a night out dancing alone at a club, swimming a few laps, mowing the lawn, discovering a gun, and shooting himself twice for want of something better to do. Improbably, he survives, but the film soon pivots to consider Mariano’s brother Ezequiel, then a fast-food restaurant employee, then a music student, a few punks, a divorcée. None of these characters seem to know what to do moment to moment. They follow impulse, which mostly leads them nowhere, restlessly circling around their fellow tumbleweeds. Even the family dog wanders off.
The structure of the film is crafty. It constructs a complex network of characters, and proceeds to drift from thread to thread, either too suddenly or too subtly to feel jarring. This tactic keeps the film intriguingly aloof, as if its center is obscured by a thick, rolling fog. And yet, this unmoored momentum, while perhaps thematically appropriate, makes the experience of watching Two Shots Fired a frustrating and slow one.
More than its lack of a center around which to cohere, the culprit is the flat, dry tone director Martín Rejtman employs liberally and unilaterally. Performances are stiff, line deliveries are fast and monotonous, and the camera remains static, even uninterested. The unusual pitch of the film is a conscious and consistent choice by Rejtman, but an alienating one. The possibility that the filmmaker sees the work as wry absurdity only occurred to me an hour in. Now I think it is intended as dead-pan comedy, but Rejtman finds the proceedings much more amusing than I do.
Though there is a strange originality to Two Shots Fired, its tone is not altogether unfamiliar. Its lack of music, measured static images and interest in unoccupied spaces brought to mind Haneke, Östlund and Lanthimos. Still, Rejtman’s aesthetic and moral perspective isn’t as searingly clear as those other artists’. Östlund’s brilliant Force Majeure, for example, is a tinderbox of potent machinations. It spoke volumes with the simple configurations of its characters within locked-off shots. Two Shots Fired replicates the purposefulness and austerity of some contemporary world cinema, but doesn’t wield it with the same clarity of vision.
As the narrative pieces of the film begin to come together, or more aptly continue to disperse, a few motifs do emerge to hint at Two Shots Fired’s point of view. Each character, in his own way, seems to drown in the luxury of choice open to this world of relative privilege. They lack duty or obligation, to say nothing of passion or direction. As a result, they’re constantly moving but never getting anywhere. Javier and Ana tell everyone that their breaking up, but they have been for two years. Lucía joins a flute quartet but soon loses interest and quits. And everyone prefers to meet new people online, mostly just to have an appointment to keep.
While his characters may lack the courage of their convictions, Rejtman certainly doesn’t. His film is unapologetic and consistent. It just lacks the probing—visually and thematically—needed to do more than wander in circles.