There are some elements that are without a doubt needed for a movie, let my try and tick them off, please stop me if I go too deep or too fast.
The first, is a picture. Without this it’s what could be called audio, often heard on radio, CD, MP3, etc. Interestingly audio is not an absolute requirement for a movie. The second, and perhaps what failed this movie, is story telling, yes that’s right, an actual story which is told and progresses through the length of the movie. Not a two line blurb that is padded out with numerous shots of nothing. I could end the review there, but since I had the strength of character to stay for the length of the movie I think I’ll return the compliment.
…we get closer to truth when someone simply stands in front of the camera without trying to communicate anything…Carlos Reygadas
The Edinburgh Film Festival guide carries that quote from the Director, I presume in an attempt to explain the movie’s style. If this were indeed the truth, then I can quite easily make a two hour movie of just people sitting watching the camera, doing nothing, and the story would come through. I struggle to find words at this point.
The actual story in this movie, if all the other scenes were removed, could be told in under five minutes. The rest comprises of long, slow moving shots of people walking, standing, corridors, buildings, scenery, and non too erotic sex. Saying that, the story that we are told is minimal, are we supposed to be guessing the rest ourselves? I found no desire for the story or the characters, so why would I, never mind could I from the sparse information given.
Now when I talk about slow shots, I am talking about a five to ten second slow pan showing a character turn their head one way, followed by another long shot of their head turning the other way and the camera turning again. Or the excruciating scenes of characters just standing and looking. It was difficult to wait for the camera to catch up. The movie needed so much more editing, as it stand it would bring it down to a short, but there were many aspects of the story that could have actually been attempted to be explored onscreen, even in a minimalist way.
When an old man is wheeled out in front of two characters in the street we’re treated to an agonising scene mirroring that in The Rocky Horror Picture Show although this is totally serious. It’s that moment when the Professor first appears and everyone calls out everyone elses name, slowly passing around the room. Funny there, painful here.
It was also difficult to stay with the most unerotic and uncomfortable sex scenes I’ve ever seen in my life. During the opening scene we’re treated to the main character, a somewhat overweight man standing before us naked. The camera pans down his body to what looks like an underage girl engaged in fellatio, with tears running down her face. This isn’t nice, and something I struggled to sit through.
It doesn’t get better either. A scene of him masturbating to a football match was equally unappealing, even though you saw nothing. There’s a sex scene later on with the same girl having sex with Marcos, the lead, and we’re treated to a lovely shot of his fading erection and a shot of her vagina. Lovely. Add another fellatio scene between these characters and you’re almost celibate. The icing on the cake however is in the scene between Marcos and his wife who is most definitely obese. I struggled.
The actors are real people, and it shows. They’re totally lifeless and did not even engage me. I found myself wondering how much time had passed and wishing for shots to complete rather than watching the same shot for the next ten to fifteen seconds. A feeling I felt once before with The House of Mirth.
For me, I don’t understand the comment I heard later from one critic who thought it was amazing. She was really hung up on whether some inane detail of the plot was known by other characters. Another critic turned to her saying it was truly awful and there was no story, yet she loved it and defended the story. The more she talked the more I realised that the story she was talking about existed in her head as an extrapolation of the story that we saw on the screen. Was it that the Director intended us to derive the story from small details interspersed with these shots? I don’t like being spoon fed, but I would like more than a few crumbs to try and taste the meal.
I’d hate to say it’s a terrible movie, you have to consider the context of the Country’s movie industry, the Country itself, etc., but for me it was dull, lifeless, and taught to watch.