El Movimiento takes place during the first half of the XIX century, in a vast and desolated land which has fallen into anarchy. Several groups of armed men drift along the infinite Pampas demanding for support and food from the peasants. While there’s great rivalry among these groups, they all claim allegiance to the Movement, such the name of the political organization they say to represent. Among these drifting gangs there’s one led by Señor, an educated man who together with two followers intends to found a peaceful new order. While his enchanting words and manners seem appealing to the people, his methods reveal an unstoppable thirst for power.
Visually austere and formally rigorous, Benjamin Naishtat’s 70-minute feature is a stark historical parable of frontier life on the Pampas more than 150 years ago, prior to the unification of Argentina as a nation. Defiantly non-commercial, the film could benefit from further festival play and potentially gain more exposure on digital platforms.
Naishtat signals his provocative intent from the opening scene, shot in inky black-and-white HD and framed in a nearly square aspect ratio, as it depicts a band of former soldiers entertaining themselves by harassing and then murdering a local farmer by blowing his head off with a canon. The next scene, although less violent, is equally disturbing, as a trio of ruffians help themselves to an elderly farmer’s meager harvest while they openly discuss their plans to rustle his cattle and perhaps kidnap his teenage daughter, inflicting further trauma after the recent murder of his wife at the hands of another bandit group.
The group’s leader, a middle-aged man known only as Señor (Pablo Cedron), claims to represent an emerging political organization that will help unite Argentina’s various competing factions after a prolonged period of internecine wars, banishing the wave of anarchy dominating the region during the early 19th Century. As he travels the desolate countryside with his two followers, he harangues residents to attend an upcoming meeting where he will reveal The Movement’s plans for unification, although he fails to reveal any affiliation or official status that might appease people’s concerns about his violent methods of persuasion.
Naishtat shot the film with support from Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival, where he won an award for his 2014 debut feature History of Fear. The festival grant required him to complete a film of at least 60 minutes within a very limited budget and timeframe. Those stipulations persuaded him to select primarily handheld, black-and-white cinematography, constrain the framing of scenes and almost entirely forego artificial lighting in order to minimize expenses.
The budgetary and creative exigencies prompted some interesting creative choices, as Naishtat forces his rough-hewn characters into the center of the frame for their stagy, frequently declamatory line readings. The meager plot is frequently disjointed and performances are intentionally unpolished, resulting in a sometimes disorientingly expressionistic visual style. It’s not a particularly attractive approach, but it adequately conveys the violence and disorder of the period.