Two Shots Fired (2014)
Two Shots Fired opens on an act of irrational violence: A 16-year-old boy, devoid of any expression or motivation we can register, shoots himself twice after a quick swim. The film ends, 100 minutes later, having fully convinced us that it’s no more logical than that impulsive act. Two Shots Fired operates just beyond our understanding, which befits a film about human behavior that makes no sense. It’s a quietly mystifying comedy about confusion itself. Buried in it, deliberately obscured, is a sad little movie about the rippling effects of self-harm. We’ve seen that material before, but never from an angle so oblique as this.
We begin with Mariano (Rafael Federman), an Argentinean teenager who inexplicably shoots himself and even more inexplicably survives. Despite taking point-blank shots to the chest and head, Mariano shows no signs of trauma or physical harm upon return from the hospital. He does, however, still have a bullet lodged inside his torso, which causes strange sounds to come out of his flute and metal detectors to chirp outside clubs and office buildings. Mariano seems unfazed – both by his own actions and by his total lack of an emotional response to his near death.
Two Shots Fired operates just beyond our understanding, which befits a film about human behavior that makes no sense.
One by one, the marginal characters around him become the subjects of Two Shots Fired. The film strays from Mariano to follow his brother Ezequiel (Benjamín Coehlo) and his romance with a fast-food cashier (Laura Paredes). Mariano meets Lucia (Manuela Martelli), an amateur flute player who auditions for his medieval woodwind ensemble and seizes control of the film. Mariano’s mother Susana (Susana Pampkin), frazzled from overwork and her son’s apparent suicide attempt, takes a trip to the beach with a group of friends and strangers, and the camera follows her. It soon gets distracted and leaves her for Liliana (Daniela Pal), an outsider on the beach trip who has no real connection to Mariano or his mother.
Two Shots Fired plays like one of those ensemble “hyperlink films” – think Traffic, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights – except here every hyperlink leads to a “404 Not Found” error page. The shifts in perspective don’t propel any kind of story momentum or character arc. Director Martín Rejtman shifts lead characters and abandons them with the same seeming randomness that led Mariano to pick up that gun. This narrative device is the most memorable thing about Two Shots Fired, even if Rejtman’s refusal to offer any payoff whatsoever makes the whole thing rather cold and frustrating.
The “hyperlink” structure also reflects the film’s mild fascination with the Internet, which serves as the connective tissue between several of these non-stories. Mariano recruits Lucía to join his woodwind group via an online posting; a forwarded email leads Liliana to ride with Susana to the beach; a side character explains the presence of some lurking stranger with a shrug about having met him online. Much like tumbling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, the film follows one person to the next, until it can scarcely explain how or why it got to where it did.
Two Shots Fired plays like one of those ensemble “hyperlink films” – think Traffic, Short Cuts, Boogie Nights – except here every hyperlink leads to a “404 Not Found” error page.
In its esoteric way, Two Shots Fired touches on a very human impulse: to abandon the rules and rational thoughts that govern our lives. Rejtman starts the film with a shot of Mariano dancing in a club, alone and liberated. His only other moment of liberation comes minutes later, when he ignores every voice inside his head (and out) and shoots himself for no reason. Through a clever use of timers and stopwatches, Rejtman depicts life as a mechanized series of events over which we have little control. In the world of Two Shots Fired, an irrational, self-destructive act holds a lot of appeal. The desire to discard logic and social rules, even if it could kill us, isn’t rational – but it’s real. Rejtman leads by example with a film that subverts the rules of storytelling and is devoid of any commercial prospects as a result.
A tough sell by any measure, Two Shots Fired does provide some more immediate pleasures. For one, the film sounds wonderful. The flutes and cell phones erupt within this very quiet movie, and the constant humming of appliances in Susana’s house captures the feel of life in a suburban home. The film also unfolds as a comedy, albeit a rather sparse one. Rejtman mines this dark material for a number of droll scenarios. Mariano’s broken cell phone, which his mother forced him to carry at all times after the shooting, and his strained flute playing as a result of the bullet in his chest both get played for laughs. The jokes lead nowhere – as the whole film, by design, leads nowhere – but they make for a strangely light film that otherwise begins with a 16-year-old turning a gun on himself twice.
Martín Rejtman directs a hyperlink film in which all of the hyperlinks are broken in Two Shots Fired. A cold, morbid comedy, the film speaks to our impulse to abandon the social rules and rational thoughts that govern our lives. Despite the fine filmmaking and inventive narrative structure, Two Shots Fired suffers from its clinical detachment from the characters it depicts. A film about the irrational impulses of human beings could benefit from being a little less unfeeling.