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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 08.26.12] Argentina fantasy dystopic



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The film opens with stunning close-ups of Lautaro Delgado as El Topo, applying dramatic black and white stage make-up, similar to that in Black Swan. Over dissolves, we hear a reoccurring drum roll and a girl announcing to the audience that the show will now begin. Then, like M. Night's career, the initial intrigue we gain from the first half hour or so gradually peters out to an anti-climactic finish. What we're left with are good intentions and an underwhelming script and a film that looks remarkably well crafted for $600k, but still looks like a film make for $600k.


El Topo's father, Kongo, is a revolutionary, hell bent on waging war against the above ground world and believes that his children should be equally as loyal to the cause, regardless of the consequences. In order to escape the fate that his father has laid out for him, El Topo and his sex-crazed sister kidnap the young and promising dancer Amadeo, so he can take his place above ground.

The protagonist's story itself is quite sweet. We see a man raised underground, doomed to a world of insanity, cannibalism and chaos, with an unspeakable love for ballet. He develops almost an intimate relationship with the people and images he observes through the vents in the walls. However, once he finds himself in the academy, ready to pursue his love for dance in ways he once could only dream of, he also finds himself as an outcast once again, with new enemies to conquer. Still, there's something quite obnoxious in his sluggish adaption process into his "new world" and the headmasters' ignorance of his obviously false identity. It's true that the Amadeo the academy is to inherit is expected to be temporarily injured and emotionally scarred from a recent attack on his family. However, after days of limited progress, frighteningly poor hygiene, extreme lack of dance ability, etc., somebody of significance would catch on. However, those who do put two and two together prove to be virtually inconsequential, leading us to a third act of limited conflict.

The underground world is nothing shocking or unfamiliar. It runs through the checklist of what we'd expect to see in a squalid community ruled by degeneracy. Within the tunnels we see schizophrenic peddlers selling cooked rats, makeshift homes pieced together by individual findings, congestion, and, as always, the "red light" section of groaning and grinding prostitutes. The only thing we're really missing is a guy with facial tattoos (there's always a guy with facial tattoos). People within the community are referred to as "rats." This is not simply a derogatory name for a people living under the city. Over time they have formed certain mannerisms surrounding that of rodents from clicking and sniffling, and they scavenge for any source of food, including dead flesh. It almost makes me wonder how they're able to obtain, let alone run, technology capable of scanning Amadeus' photo and confirming his personal data. Kongo might be bat shit insane, but he does know his explosives and near FBI-grade database systems.

Throughout the film it becomes clear that Emiliano Romero, the director, writer, producer and editor of the film, has a flare for the melodramatic and a love for spectacle. This is not only evident in the "rat" society, overrun by sex and debauchery. The seemingly sadistic lovers who run the academy behave like mustache twirling cartoon villains, singing praises of their false Amadeo one minute and lovingly slapping him across the face the next. They strike terror into the hearts of the students to the point where even El Topo suffers a trippy nightmare, courtesy of the "Dent" effect in Mac's Photo Booth application, about the terrible twosome's bizarre sexual exploits involving a vacuum-like contraption. One would think that this unusual conduct would amount to something. However, just like several separate scenes within the film, it's simply another method of keeping us entertained, dangling shiny objects in front of our eyes as the plot skips by. It seems as though our director hopes that the students fear, awe, etc., will translate into our own. Alas, this is not the case.

If one has the desire to create a film based around the art of dance, it might be worth it to actually hire trained dancers. Normally, I would not pick at this. Suspiria never needed intricate dance solos to create the foreboding atmosphere of its dance academy. However, if you're unable to cast true dancers in a film involving ballet, don't force them into dance scenes. Watching Enzo fill his audition space with awkward interpretive dance moves and the occasional leap is a delicate mix of painful and hilarious. All other dance schools would have to crumble and burn for this to pass as the top dance school it presents itself to be, accepting only the most talented, promising and graceless of dance students.

This film did have many strong points. The cinematography was actually not bad. The lighting throughout the film is a bit on the darker side, casting heavy shadows across characters' faces. The underground community is lit appropriately with naked yellow bulbs, attached to exposed wiring, reflecting off pipes, sheets of plastic and earth. Even if it were not for the greasy, sweat-soaked appearance of the underground characters, we'd still feel hot. El Topo' unexpected love interest is intriguing. At first, her interest in El Topo appears contrived. However, once a few psychotic tendencies are revealed, their bond becomes almost poetic.

It is somewhat unclear as to what Kongo intends to accomplish with his "revolution," which basically consists of him sacrificing himself, his children and his cronies by running up above ground and randomly attacking people. It's highly possible that certain discrepancies within the plot may be partially due to poor translation. I will not dare say that the subtitling errors for this film reached the level of fuckery seen in Battle Royale. Still, it was enough to shake one's head in noticing that the English translations were most likely accomplished by copy and pasting the dialogue script into Google Translation.

It's a film that enters with a bang and lands with a thud. For about the first forty minutes, we're introduced into two worlds with some promise and potential. Unfortunately, as Emilian Romero becomes too engrossed with imagery, rather than the substance of his story, it trickles off toward the end. I would not say this is a terrible film but it is disappointing to watch a great story pass by with a few avoidable mistakes. It's a film best recommended with a shrug.

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