Review by Sean Boelman
Nicolás Pereda’s film Fauna exists on a weird plane where it is not quite abstract enough to be considered avant garde, but certainly can’t be defined by traditional narrative standards. Boiling down to an interesting experiment in filmmaking but not much else, one is left to question if this movie really even has an audience, and if so, how will it serve them?
The film takes place over the course of an awkward family reunion as tensions arise and some of the family members find themselves intrigued by the arrival of a newcomer into their unit. It is very loosely a dysfunctional family comedy, but Pereda’s script is not held back by the genre’s tropes, settling in a place that is vaguely familiar if not entirely comfortable.
Even though the runtime is only an hour and ten minutes, that brief length is packed from start to finish with dialogue. Whether it goes by quickly or slowly will depend on how much attention one is willing to pay to the intricacies and references of Pereda’s script, and whether they appreciate his dry sense of humor.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Pereda’s movie is that it is all over the place thematically. There are obviously some really interesting things going on in the script, like his commentary on the role of violence in the media, but then it heads off on a tangent that isn’t as profound or well-developed as the main matter at hand.
The character development in the film is also rather underwhelming. Pereda seems more interested in what the characters have to say instead of how their words reflect on them. As a result, Pereda’s profound observations on society turn into something shallow and distant that feels like it is offering insight without any real application.
Francisco Barreiro is clearly the highlight of this movie. Playing a character with some obvious meta-commentary ties to his popular role in the series Narcos: Mexico, Barreiro has the juiciest part with the meatiest dialogue. Luisa Pardo is also solid in her role, but she is given much less substantial material to work with than Barreiro.
On a technical level, the film is rather straightforward. It’s disappointing that Pereda didn’t go for more of a confined thriller style for his heavily dialogue-driven piece. Nothing looks bad — in fact, it is quite the opposite — everything almost looks too nicely polished for a movie that seemingly wants to be gritty and edgy.
Fauna doesn’t have enough of a conventional narrative to be satisfying in that regard, but is also not ambitious enough to work as an avant garde film. Despite a few things working in its favor, viewers will largely be left wanting more from this disappointing mash-up.
Fauna screened as a part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival which ran September 10-19.