The Untamed, dir. Amat Escalante│After employing social realism in focusing on cartel drug war in his previous work, Heli, which won the award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, Mexican director Amat Escalante explores another dirty side of Mexican reality, appalled by the lack of humanity of a news article titled „Faggot Drowned”. His fourth feature-length film The Untamed, premiered at the Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Lion for best direction, takes apart a troubled family ruined by repressed sexual tendencies by putting an alien element in it.
Alejandra (Ruth Ramos), a young mother of two small boys, works in the pastry factory of the parents of her alcoholic husband Angel (Jesús Meza), a pretend macho man, who calls his wife’s openly gay brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio) “faggot”. But he is actually having a secret affair with his brother-in-law, a nurse in the local hospital who gets to treat mysterious Veronica (Simone Bucio), after she came in with a proclaimed dogbite. After building a friendship with Fabian and later Alejandra, she persuades them, one by one, to take a trip to an isolated shack in rural Guanajuato, where a tentacled alien creature is kept and protected by a middle-aged couple. The strange extraterrestrial being, visually clearly a nod at the monster in Żuławski’s Possession, induces an atavistic sexual desire in all creatures in its proximity.
The original title of the film, which translates literally as „the savage region”, could refer to the repressed but untameable, uncanny erotic aspects of the Id, satiated by an alien life form hidden in an enigmatic “Room”, which can, again, be interpreted as a parallel of Tarkovsky’s religious and transcendental Zone in Stalker, except that here people lose themselves by returning to their most primitive and purest sexual desires. Like an addiction, the repeated encounters with the mysterious creature could be enlightening, revitalizing or lethal.
Working with Lars von Trier’s recent cinematographer, Manuel Alberto Claro (Melancholia, Nymphomaniac), who creates an evocatively misty setting, Escalante highlights a sense of disorientation that would be inevitably induced by access to one’s basest sexual pleasure. The film opens a space for the contemplation of human – or animal – impulses, exploring the way sex is in reality often mismatched with expectations (as with Alejandra and Angel), and how our identities and personalities inform these expectations, and are in turn influenced by their results.
The Untamed is a polymorphous essay on the nature of desire, with tentacles that reach deep into the conservative social environment and domestic violence it often entails. However, refusing a direct approach, and instead crossing into the genres of science fiction, body horror, and erotica, with a strong presence of B-movie traits, the Mexican director’s perverse fantasy opens avenues for investigation of homosexuality, domestic cruelty, and gender roles in an extremely powerful and effective way.■
│In cooperation with│
The Untamed / La región salvaje│ Director: Amat Escalante│ Screenplay: Amat Escalante, Gibrán Portela│ Camera: Manuel Alberto Claro│ Editing: Fernanda de la Peza, Jacob Secher Schulsinger│ Music: -│ Cast: Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza│ Producer: Jaime Romandía, Fernanda de la Peza, Amat Escalante, Nicolás Celis, Thomas Gammeltoft, Katrin Pors, Jean Labadie, Anne-Laure Labadie, Michael Weber, Maria Ekerhovd, Katja Adomeit│ Production Company: Mantarraya Producciones / Tres Tunas / Snowglobe / Le Pacte / The Match Factory / Mer Film / Adomeit Film / Copenhagen Film Fund, / ZDF / ARTE / Labo Digital / Bord Cadre Films / Pimienta Films│Country: Mexico / Denmark / France / Germany / Norway / Switzerland│ Year: 2016│ Running Time: 100 min.│ International Sales: The Match Factory│ Festival: Venice FF 2016 / Tallinn Black Nights FF 2016│