After the last two weeks’ blogs on highlights of Toulouse’s Cinélatino film festival, this week will conclude with a selection of films which, in my opinion, should be avoided at all costs. First of all, Alejo Franzetti’s The Destruction of the Ruling Order (La Destrucción del orden vigente), which wanted to be a thriller/murder mystery. Unfortunately, wooden acting made it more like a failed comedy. From the very first moment, the film felt passé, the style of its music and title sequence vaguely evocative of Almodovar’s early work: a film of La Movida, 30 years late. It was as though the film itself were on ketamine, the protagonist’s drug of choice. Clara tries to find out how her boyfriend died. At the same time, she receives mysterious fake newspapers with headlines warning her to investigate her mother’s death—‘it was not a heart attack’, they say cryptically. Clara’s mane of blonde hair was the most versatile presence in the film, able to appear up or down, messy or controlled, nuances which eluded the actors entirely.
In the Sky (Al Cielo, 2012), meanwhile, was unwatchable not because there was so little action (which was also true), but because of the director’s literally nauseating style. Like Gabriel Mariño, director of A Secret World, it seems that Diego Prado wanted to use the camera to suggest that the teenage Andrés is living in his own world. However, where Mariño trained the camera on his protagonist’s profile, Prado focused most often on the back of his protagonist’s head, leaving everything around him blurred. Combine this with a handheld camera following the character around, and it’s guaranteed that some spectators will feel sick well before the end of the film. The idea behind Al Cielo had great potential: the lead singer of the protagonist’s favourite punk band, Noche Nero, dies. Concerned that Andrés will become depressed and get into trouble, his mother pushes him to join a church youth group. He agrees to go, even though he clearly doesn’t fit in with the other kids and their earnest discussions. By chance, he does meet some people more like himself at the church: a punk band which is allowed to practice on church premises since one of its members regularly attends services. Andrés’s relationship with one of the band members is one of the few elements of beauty and hope in this otherwise disorienting and dull film.
Most banal of all, though, was The Last Elvis (El Ultimo Elvis, 2012, dir. Armando Bó). While it was technically professional, unlike the other two films it did not even try to do anything new, different or contemporary. It is the story of a man in his 40s, separated from his wife, and father to a 6-year-old girl. Rather than stepping up to his responsibilities, he indulges his fantasy that he is Elvis Presley, insisting that people call him by this name rather than his real one. The audience is subjected to his performances as an Elvis impersonator, which are not terrible but not specially good either. The film is intended as a comedy, but it is hard to have much sympathy for this selfish man: if the audience doesn’t care about the central character, it is hard to engage with the film as a whole. There have been great tragicomedies about would-be music legends: these prove that audiences can sympathise with characters who struggle, however absurdly, to live their dreams alongside their everyday reality—Anvil: The Story of Anvil! (2008) was a superb example. Most of us wish that our lives could be more glamorous, and try to follow our dreams in a small way. Elvis wants to do more, though, living his life exactly as if he were The King himself. The redeeming element in the film is his daughter, a wry and endearing little girl. Initially she is contemptuous of her father, but when fate forces her to live with him for a while, she immediately adapts, warming to both her father and his lifestyle, and demonstrating a heartbreaking degree of acceptance and affection for a man who has little love for anyone but himself. Where it ought to have focused more on the little girl, the film follows Elvis, cheering him on for his selfishness rather than condemning it. This is a film which divides opinion, though: while there are those who will agree with me that it is banal, the French critics’ jury at Cinélatino awarded their ‘Discovery Prize’ to The Last Elvis.