Argentine Cinema Pioneer, Martin Rejtman Takes On Suicide With Deadpan Humor

As if to challenge its central premise of a young man shooting himself in the head and stomach, there is a slow-burning, ethereal essence to Argentinean director Martín Rejtman’s new film Two Shots Fired (Dos Disparos). The stricken soul in question is 17-year-old Mariano, who, upon finding a loaded revolver at home, fires into his own body, apparently as much from boredom and curiosity as any suicidal tendencies. He survives in a strangely unscathed state, before further troubles – a runaway pet dog, elder brother Ezequiel’s existentialism, a cell phone he can’t turn off to the chagrin of his companions in a woodwind music ensemble – take the film on a meandering narrative through a series of bone-dry humorist sketches. They all take place in front of Rejtman’s trademark fixed-camera filming style.

“My editor pointed out this kid coming to see my first film Rapado. It was the third time he’d been to see the film and some years before he’d shot himself twice with a revolver…”

While Two Shots Fired‘s characters and their encounters are painted with the absurdist brush of Wes Anderson, the detached lens through which we observe them most evokes Jarmusch-ian minimalism. For the Buenos Aires-born Rejtman, sparseness is a fundamental element of his filmmaking. “My style is very objective, as I don’t like the camera to intervene in the action but to observe,” he says. “As a director, before opinionating or commenting, I prefer to show.”

It is Rejtman’s first return to big screen drama since 2003’s The Magic Gloves (Los Guantes Magicos). That’s not to say he hasn’t been busy. “I’ve published two story books and made another two films,” he says, “a documentary called Copacabana and a fiction film for TV, Elementary Training for Actors (Entrenamiento Elemental Para Actores).” Much of his time has been given over to the age-old pursuit of putting pen to paper. “I don’t generally set off from a predetermined plot but rather I develop ideas during the writing process.”

Two Shots Fired is based on apparently true events which came to Rejtman’s attention at a film festival in Salta, northern Argentina. “My editor pointed out this kid who was coming to see my first film Rapado,” he says. “It was the third time he’d been to see the film and some years before he’d shot himself twice with a revolver. [In Two Shots Fired] Mariano shoots himself in the head but the bullet grazes his temple. The second time, he shoots himself in the stomach and the bullet stays in his body. It’s not a common situation but it’s possible.”

“Argentinean cinema has changed massively in the last twenty years… each year there are at least four or five interesting films. That wasn’t the case when I started…”

As you may imagine, a bullet embedded inside you presents several challenges, not least when trying to pass through metal detector machines. The situation is most traumatic for Mariano’s mother Susana – “She doesn’t know how to deal with the situation,” says Rejtman – who appoints elder son Ezequiel to look after his sibling. But Ezequiel has issues of his own, including a desire to get fresh with the girl from the supermarket. A combination of carnal urges, brotherly protectionism, and a penchant for critical thought analysis mesh into a complex behavioral pattern that pushes Ezequiel to ruminate on life’s conundrums while chain-smoking.

Rejtman, who revolutionized Argentine cinema with Rapado back in 1992, tends to eschew conventional narrative cause-and-effect to present a world that is haphazard and random. The dead-eyed aloofness of the protagonists conveys a sense of unease as much as of empathy, as if their lack of identifiable roundedness were a result of the conflicting imagery that adorns their social environment. A sense of uprooted-ness underlies Mariano’s act of self-harm at the beginning of the film: he mows the lawn, has some lunch, and then shoots himself. It seems to be Mariano’s way of engaging with the ambiguities and irrationalities of being. The cruel joke seems to be that, in order to make sense of things or to grow, we’re best off putting a gun to our heads.

Rejtman tends to eschew conventional narrative cause-and-effect to present a world that is haphazard and random.

The distance that Rejtman imposes between onscreen developments is one familiar in the work of other contemporary Argentinean directors such as Lisandro Alonso, whose Jauja followed Viggo Mortensen’s 19th-century colonizer steadily losing touch with reality while pursuing his eloping daughter and her lover across the Patagonian wilderness. As with Jauja, and Alonso’s earlier film Liverpool, the lack of frenetic activity and determined resolution in Two Shots Fired may test the patience of audiences accustomed to commercially-driven narrative, but it is central to the films’ contemplative approach.

According to Rejtman, films like those of Alonso and his own are part of the increased artistic verve of Argentina. “Argentinean cinema has changed massively in the last twenty years,” he says. “I think that each year there are at least four or five interesting films. That wasn’t the case when I started making films.”

It might not be to everyone’s individual taste, but you’d certainly have to say that Two Shots Fired fits that category. Rejtman is happy for the conversation to continue at a later date. “Watch it and let’s speak afterwards,” he says. You can’t argue with that.

The retrospective Sounds Like Music: The Films of Martín Rejtman will play at the Film Society of Lincoln Center from May 13 – 19. Dos Disparos will have a one week run as part of this series.

Enter for a chance to win a pair of tickets to opening night here. Tickets include the screening on 5/13, Q&A with the director, and a cocktail reception.