Berlin 2014: ‘History of Fear’ review


A damming portrait of a community tearing itself apart from the inside, Benjamín Naishtat’s Berlinale Competition offering History of Fear (2014) ponders the future outcome of a world governed through fear and paranoia. Opening with an aerial shot surveying the film’s gated Buenos Aires compound, History of Fear presents us with a seemingly dystopian present where neighbourhoods are fragmented in accordance with the social strata. A flimsy fence is all that separates this suburb from the horrors of the outside world, whilst also an ideological barrier that helps the bourgeois residents sleep at night.

However, as events progress and insular anxieties worsen, sporadic power cuts start to become a common occurrence, whilst the restless locals are convinced the outside world is scheming to unite and steal their wealth. It’s not what lurks behind the fence of this closely guarded citadel that needs to be feared, but rather the enemy within. During the recent economic crisis, the Argentinian government were exposed for exploiting the population’s worries to build an aura of insecurity. Nothing keeps society in check better than an exterior enemy, and Naishtat looks to portray this current climate of fear and middle-class paranoia by inflicting a palpable sense of agoraphobia onto the audience through a dense wall of sound.

The vibrant, almost bellicose noise of the surrounding neighbourhoods infiltrate the walls of these sheltered homes, disorientating the viewer and underlaying a genuine sense of impending doom. Sound is also used to identify and appropriate space, with the gated community portrayed as a serene idyll, whilst the adjacent districts are alive with the percussive sounds of everyday hardship and toil. More that just a put-down of middle-class paranoia, History of Fear shows how easy it is for the ruling classes to turn a population against each itself and manipulate the collective conscious into a state of paralysed disquiet. Each time the power goes of, shrouding this world in darkness, we expect something terrible to happen – the joke is that nothing will.

Sadly, this fragmented landscape is also echoed in a script that feels as equally confused as we do. Despite efficiently building a disorientating climate of fear, Naishtat’s History of Fear is far too unforthcoming with information for the audience to maintain the necessary degree of interest. Whilst mirroring the same confusion and apprehension as the film’s on-screen characters is understandable from a directorial point of view, it sadly disconnects the audience from the narrative – leaving us lost, bewildered and unwilling to duly invest in Naishtat’s allegorical microcosm.

The 2014 Berlin Film Festival takes place from 6-16 February. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble