It’s a rite of passage saga as old as storytelling, as universal as fathers and sons — a son and his father bond over the ancient act of hunting.
But in today’s wired, urbanized world, can it be taken seriously?
In America, maybe not so much as the not-all-bad Netflix comedy “The Legacy of a White Tail Deer Hunter” made clear — or murkily clear.
As in the U.S., if you get far enough away from the big cities, the life lessons offered by such a trip still have resonance. And in Argentina, as in North America, the further South you go, the more likely you are to find it in practice.
“Temporada de Caza” (“Hunting Season”) is an Argentine film that uses this “coming of age” trope as its subtext. But where it goes with it can be surprising, making some of the same points as “White Tail Deer,” but in all earnestness, with much darker undertones.
Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni) is a spoiled city kid/private school student teetering on the brink of “out of control.” We meet him just as he’s about to spontaneously set off a rugby brawl.
We don’t know what started it. But…rugby.
He’s expelled, and his stepfather (Boy Olmi) has to remove him from school. He’s sympathetic, but emotional. He packs the kid off to the South, to his biological dad. There are papers to be signed and a connection to be renewed.
Nahuel just lost his mother, and the smoking, cursing, fist-fighting punk is pretty touchy about it.
Ernesto (Germán Palacios) isn’t sure about this visit. Maybe that’s why he sits in his battered Toyota pickup at the airport, staring at the kid waiting for him at the entrance. Hours.
“I had things to do,” he grouses (in Spanish, with English subtitles).
The gauntlet has been tossed, because this kid isn’t having any of his redneck birth-dad’s nonsense.
“He’s not my father,” he snaps at Ernesto’s wife (Pilar Benitex Vivart), who warns him away from “your father’s seat” at the dinner table.
The kid is rude to her, insults the principal at the school he’s supposed to enroll in to finish the year, sneering about having to “mingle with these people,” and Ernesto, something of a rough customer himself, isn’t having it.
Tempers explode as Nahuel disrupts the family dynamic (they have three small girls), skips out to hang with the hip hop happy snowboard punk locals.
Insolent Nahuel and grizzled cabin-dweller Ernesto have to find common ground. In desperation, Ernesto takes the kid out into the snowy hills to learn to shoot.
Ernesto gets the little acne-spotted jerk’s interest. Something about a deadly weapon does that for teenage boys. He’s got to master using the scope, the bolt-action of the rifle.
Maybe they have nothing in common, but as Ernesto leads Nahuel as several of his hunting buddies out to chase away poachers from the national park near where they live, camping and drinking by the campfire might be their thing. Together.
Writer-director Natalia Garagiola presumably doesn’t have a lot of first-hand experience with his in patriarchal Argentina. But she builds a story of pain, grief and miscommunications, a film of snowy vistas and rustic authenticity.
It’s a cliche to show a kid being taught responsibility by making him chop wood, and another cliche is his eschewing the offered gloves as he does it. We all know where that leads.
But using a hand-held camera to capture the moments of action and taking care to add pathos to both man and boy as the story unfolds, she finds something fresh to bring to this hoary story.
With every glimpse at an old video he’s saved on his phone, with every time he snaps at someone mentioning “what you’ve been through,”Bettoni and director Garagiola let us into this reckless kid’s world.
The veteran actor Palacios makes Ernesto’s “tree” to Nahuel’s “apple that doesn’t fall far from it” perfectly credible, a man who isn’t used to communicating feelings, worries and other unmanly subtleties to anybody. He plays Ernesto’s temper, his confidence in the woods and his out-of-his-depth-dealing with a teenager scenes with deft understatement.
The ground they cover here is so over-familiar that even with the odd surprise, the added subtext of a son rejecting who his “father” is, “Hunting Season/Temporada de Caza” isn’t novel enough to make you rethink its genre.
But this film festival favorite has enough ingredients — setting, gritty father-son dynamic, pall of death hanging over it — to warrant a look, “Netflixable” as we say.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Germán Palacios, Lautaro Bettoni
Credits: Written and directed by Natalia Garagiola . A Cinetren /Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48