Deadpan Hilarity in Argentina


It's that time of year again when crowds descend upon Lincoln Center to experience world cinema worthy of the ultimate accolades, the most hyped Oscar-worthy Hollywood offerings of the year, experimental programs that expose the versatility of the medium, and shorts that announce a whole spate of new, young directors who will no doubt blow our minds in the future -- or at least supply us with a few major catharses.

Yes, for seventeen days the main slate of the 2014 New York Film Festival will showcase 30 films from such countries as Germany, France, Switzerland, South Korea, Portugal, and "O Canada." There will be Romantic fare such as Beloved Sisters, which chronicles Friedrich Schiller's love affair with two siblings; Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel (Inherent Vice); and Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher, with Steve Carell as a loony du Pont heir who gets a bit unsavory with a wrestler played by the wholesome Channing Tatum.

But one of the more enjoyably offbeat features is Martin Rejtman's Two Shots Fired, which showcases Argentina as a land plagued by emotional neutrality.  No smiles. No Howard Beale outbursts. No fidgety tots and no Lotharios aquiver.

The film begins as some might end. Sixteen-year-old Mariano (Rafael Federman), after a night of discoing and a morning of swimming laps and mowing the lawn, goes into his family's tool shed, comes upon a hidden revolver, and goes back to his bedroom, where he shoots himself in his head and stomach -- or tries to. Yes, he escapes any major damage with the exception of an internal bullet that interferes with his Renaissance and Baroque recorder playing and also sets off alarms.

When asked later by a psychiatrist why he did what he did, Mariano replies, "It was an impulse.... It was very hot.... I'm not anxious or depressed."

Apparently, the shooting was an act that placed a suicide attempt on the same level as pruning the garden of weeds or changing one's motor oil.

Of course, his family reacts a bit to this unforeseen breach of family etiquette: Mom, by burying all the knives in the house in the backyard, and brother Ezequiel (Benjamin Coelho), by falling for a young server in a fast food restaurant.

Imagine a John Waters film but with "normal people on Valium" and you sort of have it, except one of the main villains here is a cell phone that can't be silenced. Damn technology!

Oh, I forgot. There's more: the family dog who escapes to a better-off family, and a weekend vacation where Mom and Mariano's music teacher hook up with an oddball, derelict hausfrau, her divorced unsavory husband, and his kleptomaniac woman-of-the-moment who winds up getting bit by fleas.

Two Shots Fired is a farcical delight that strives to satirize Modern Life, an epoch where everyone goes through the motions but fails to connect in any genuine manner. The film achieves its goals.