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Rick McGrath [Celluloid 03.27.12] Chile scifi thriller drama



Year: 2010
Directors: Sebastian Brahm
Writers: Sebastian Brahm
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Roman's Circuit is a possibly brave attempt to marry a very cool psychological idea with the emotional state of the protagonist, but the fun of any intellectual insights are unfortunately buried under a mountain of melodramatic mush. Sightseers should also watch out for unusual avalanches of angst.


The movie's title refers to our hero, one Roberto Roman, and the many examples of how things "circuit" in his life. Roberto, who answers to a bewildering number of nicknames, is a sadsack intellectual unable to surpass himself. When he was just 27 he wrote a groundbreaking paper on how memory works, and that was the high point of his academic career. Unable to get his recent papers published, and now doubting his own youthful insights, he returns to his alma mater and is torn between the polite aggression of university politics and the aggressive politeness of his relationships with present and past girlfriends.

The other, and for me more interesting story involves Roberto's theory of memory and the story's literal extension of it. According to Roberto, our memories are divided into two spheres - episodic and working - and when we remember something a neural pattern is made in the episodic area which then feeds into the working memory, and from there the memory becomes conscious. A different pattern is made for each memory, and the more we remember it, the stronger and larger the neural connections are. But if we remember two things at once, then it's possible that one set of neural links in the episodic memory will change over to the other linkage, and memories can be stored in different ways. Which means different memories can be triggered by the same place or emotion. Confused? Doesn't matter. Because Roberto's life seems to be a circuit - he's back where he started from - the memory idea offers multi-level interpretations, and writer/director Sebastian Brahm makes good visual work out of the pastiche of memories Roberto experiences as he relives the places and people of his youth. Yes, it's all done with time lapse jumps, but the action is quite easy to follow and some of the scenes are fascinating as in repetition they add more information to the overall state of affairs.

Sounds interesting, but what finally ruins this film is the unnecessary, melodramatic wallowing of the story's rather unlikeable characters. They're a nerdy bunch. Roberto is a balding, narcissistic wimp who seems most concerned with saving intellectual face while mourning over his lost career. As well as his improbable love life. And he's a shifty one, too. The rest of the cast are also odd characters, perhaps because of the dialogue, which is so sparse it seems to invite the kind of overacting long pauses create. The university crowd is a bit of a hoot, though... the same backstabbing, publish or perish, self-centred academics seem to be in Chile as everywhere. We also get to see how the system replicates itself, as Roberto was ripped off by his supervisor when he wrote his paper and now Roberto does the same to his student researcher after he comes up with an idea that extends the original research in a productive way. The student's vocal-visual explanation of his theory is one of the film's high points. Which is damning it with faint praise.

One supposes the artsy aspect of Roman’s Circuit is the flimsy connection twixt memory and fiction. Roberto’s theory of the moveable memory is expanded to the idea that two memories can fuse together in a new way - the "eureka" moment - combining the emotion of one memory with the spatial coordinates of another. That's close to Freud's ideas about memory - on the surface, about as trustworthy as dreams - and while this psychological insight might have had superb dramatic effect, it seems almost wasted on Roberto's petty careerist worries, his horny mother, his irrational guilt, his silly girlfriends and the old friend he betrays. Really. Is this General Hospital?

Roman’s Circuit... it's a series of loops, all right, but some are loopier than others. This film would have been a lot more interesting if Mr Roman's life - and his moving memories - weren't quite so silly and banal. Boy genius doesn't live up to original billing - gee, whatta tragedy - but wait, he may be over it. You may be amused by the cool scientific subplot that isn't really developed, but overall I'd say this was a flick you’d be advised to short circuit.

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