Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 29, 2016 8:04 pm 
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Federico Veiroj's follow-up to 'A Useful LIfe'

In my review of Veiroj's quiet, charming previous film, A Useful Life, I note that it's "a short-short story rather than a novel." This is equally true of this third film, even if it runs a bit longer; it actually feels less substantial. Again a tall man (and Veiroj himself is tall) is at the center of it, with nice hair. Not pear-shaped and middle-aged this time, or the director of a Cinemateca, or in Uruguay either. We're in Madrid, where Gonzalo Tamayo (Álvaro Ogalla), a young, rather handsome man, in a dreamy way, is a philosophy student. But is he actually studying? The main thing, the Veiroj thing, is that again to make minorness interesting, and somehow significant.

The friend I watched the screening with didn't understand the title. What is an apostate? Can it even mean anything today to detach oneself from the Church? Given the strength of the Chruch in Spain, and particularly in Madrid, despite the city's worldliness and sophistication, it might, in some existential sense, mean something. But the main point is that it's so difficult, and also futile. It's important enough an effort for the various religious authorities Gonzalo meets with to try to dissuade or obstruct him. It's also a preoccupation for Gonzalo that may mask his inability to engage with the world. This focus of Gonzalo's throughout the film reflect's what Scott Tobias in his Variety review calls Veiroj's "instinct" for locating "moments of absurdist comedy within the throes of existential crisis." What he's doing seems Quixotic or pointless, but it is the focus Gonzalo has chosen for his personal crisis.

Veiroj's films meander, while being firmly rooted in their protagonists' preoccupations. In this case, there's a big middle section occupied largely with dreams full of nudity. Gonzalo comes and goes. He tutors the bright young son (Kaiet Rodriguez) of his attractive neighbor Maite (Barbara Lennie), whom he will kiss. His cousin Pilar, he has flirted with all his life, and flirts with now: she gets angry; leaves; then is drawn to him again. He is attractive to women.

The most touching moment is when Gonzalo visits his mother (Vicky Pena), and it's clear that he doesn't want to hurt her, yet his apostasy project, for her, is a great embarrassment. There is a feel of discreet luxury and casual good taste about his mother's apartment. And the Madrid of the film as photographed by dp Arauco Hernandez is quietly classical and beautiful. The musical background suggests the light elegance of the Groupe des Six, at once classical and humorous, one of the various classy touches that helps pull together that balance of existential crisis and absurdity Tobias refers to. In the end, Veiroj has provided even less substance this time; and yet the film is satisfying.

The Apostate/El Apóstata, 80 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2015., limited theatrical release in Spain in Oct. Included in over a dozen international festivals including Hamburg, Warsaw, London, Vienna, Gothenburg, Miami, and New Directors/New Films. It was screened as part of the latter. FIPRESCI Award at San Sebastián.

At the New Directors press screening The Apostate was preceded by a ten-minute short, Kasra Farahani's Concerning the Bodyguard, a reading of a story by Donald Barthelme by Salman Rushdie, which must have had special significance, given the decade of Rushdie's life under fatwa when he had a continual bodyguard, whom he reportedly did not like. The film seeks, with considerable success, to realize every phrase in the story's series of questions describing the bodyguard's life, using staged scenes ingeniously (and elegantly) interlinked with stock images, mostly from Russia and Iran to invent a sort of homogenized absolutist state like the one in Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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