Film Scouts Reviews

"Wild Horses"

by Karen Jaehne

December 22, 1995

Fresh from Argentina, this galloping road-movie has a hot sound track, savvy populist politics and a cleverly plotted script by Oscar-nominee Aida Bortnik ("The Official Story"). Marcelo Piñeyro has directed a wild ride down the length of Argentina's big country after an accidental bank robbery.

How accidental can a bank robbery be? Pedro, played with a charming immediacy by Leonardo Sbaraglia, is a young man living a privileged life working for a bank, as unconcerned about the rest of the world as any 23 year old. An older man, whom we know from Argentine cinema as Hector Alterio, walks into the bank, asks to talk to him, and Pedro serves him with a jaunty politeness, but not before being asked by an older colleague to go into another office further back in the bank. The "customer" is José, who hands Pedro a note and then puts a gun to his own throat. Pedro gets nervous at the request for $14,000 and tries to explain there's no cash in this part of the bank. Flinging drawers open, Pedro finds a drawer filled to the brim with yankee hundreds. Startled but relieved, he begins to load it into José's leather bag. The flurry of activity through the glass offices causes another bank employee to buzz for the guards.

Guards aim guns at José, and Pedro fears for the old man's life, so he says, "I'm your hostage. Take me. It's OK." He throws himself in front of José, as they begin to move out of the bank with Pedro reassuring the old man it'll be OK, but for god's sake, point the gun at HIS head¬make it look real! They escape to Pedro's hot little car and we get a genuine chase scene through Buenos Aires.

We watch much of this unfold¬as we do so many things today¬half through the lens of a TV news camera, in the hands of a cub reporter doing man-in-the-street interviews. This kid is painfully young, and he's just tripped over a career-making story. We know what happens when the media gets hold of a story, so this subplot is loaded with relevant, snappy contemporary observations.

This opening sequence has a bravura that signals very accomplished filmmaking. The scripting, acting, editing and intelligent use of music create a chaotic event open to many interpretations. As José and Pedro discover that this stunt has triggered a man-hunt and, then, that they have no way back into the world they knew, they become petulant, pissed off, but gradually exhilarated by a new sense of freedom, especially after they wreck Pedro's cool car and must resort to whatever vehicles are available in the back country.

They are almost robbed of their¬count it!¬$300,000 by Ana, a girl who's rootless and far more disillusioned than they. But when she sees how much money is in the bag, she gives it back. That much money means trouble. Savvy Ana, played with a mature waif quality by Cecilia Dopazo, convinces them they need her, because the authorities are looking for two people, not three. And she's fearless.

Their struggle to tell what really happened runs afoul of the bank's need to hide the fact that money was being skimmed and kept in drawers. The money is such an irritant that the three of them explode it into the air above a group of strikers they meet at a mine¬giving back to the people what is theirs.

There is more than a touch of hippy populism in this film, as we see the people along the Argentine southern artery side with fugitives. Jose teaches Pedro many lessons of the older, anti-establishment generation, but we watch Pedro learn most of it the hard way.

WILD HORSES is a splendid document of a society in constant crisis, of the brutality of authority against a despised populace, and most important¬of what banks do with money. It makes us all feel young again: a bit of Butch, a bit of the Kid, on the eve of our millenium. It makes you cheer the banditos on: Don't bawl for us, Argentina!

There is one scene in the film so stunning as to make it onto the list of all-time great movie moments. Camped out on a cliff overlooking the Pampas, Jose turns the radio to a Viennese Waltz to teach Pedro some culture. His joyous circling makes you weep. Why is this man dancing?¬He's about to die! To paraphrase Bob Dylan, "to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free" is good; it's better than no hands waving free.

WILD HORSES has been nominated by Argentina for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film Category. Watch for it. Vote for it.

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