February 10, 2012

La última muerte (2011)

During the first decades of the 21st century, there has been a certain Renaissance of genre films in Mexican film industry, which since the 1980s seemed to had relegated them to the straight-to-video market. Granted, the occasional horror film managed to crept into a theater (Del Toro's "Cronos" for example), but for the most part, the New Mexican Cinema of the 90s consisted almost exclusively of social dramas or black comedies. Despite this, new Mexican genre films began a slow yet consistent return to the big screen in the 2000s, from horror ("KM 31: Kilómetro 31" in 2006) to fantasy ("Ángel caído" in 2010), showing that there is a new generation of filmmakers decided to try new things for Mexican cinema. Science fiction, a genre that produced some of the most bizarre Mexican films of the 60s, returned in 2009 with Francisco Laresgoiti's "2033", which was followed in 2010 by Angel Mario Huerta's "Seres: Genesis" and now David Ruiz' "La última muerte". Unfortunately, the results have not been the best so far.

"La última muerte" (literally "The last death") is set in the near future and begins in the woods, when a storm is about to begin. Dr. Jaime Alexanderson (Álvaro Guerrero) is packing stuff at his cabin, as he is in the middle of a divorce from his wife Sofia (Claudette Maillé). Going outside during the storm, Alexanderson finds a young man (Kuno Becker) lying unconscious near his cabin. Alexanderson decides to help and takes him home. When he awakes, the young man is unable to recall anything, not even his name, all he can remember is the name "Mónica". He is also in great physical pain, so Alexanderson decides to take him to a hospital where his friend D. Helmut (Carlos Kaspar) checks him. They discover two important facts about the mysterious man: he is chronically ill and he doesn't exist in the Global Persons Database. Alexanderson will discover that while the man supposedly doesn't exist, everyone is after him, and soon they'll find themselves running from the police as they try to figure out his identity.

Director David Ruiz himself is the mind behind the screenplay (written in collaboration with Alexis Fridman, Gaël Geneau, Fernando Rovzar and Patricio Saiz), and makes of "La última muerte" a futuristic thriller in which Alexanderson, driven by his desire to help, leaves his quiet life determined to find out who is actually the young man. Unlike what the poster may indicate, it is actually Dr. Alexanderson who drives the story while the unknown man is more like a plot element, a MacGuffin; and this is quite interesting as having a mature middle-aged man as the protagonist of the film isn't that common nowadays. This unlikely choice for a hero allows Ruiz to explore different themes, as Alexanderson's willingness to help the young man is rooted in a desire to finally do something right in his life, something to balance all his mistakes (such as his failing marriage). For Alexanderson, helping this man becomes ultimately a purpose, a way of finally achieving something. Unfortunately, Ruiz' script fails to exploit this element as its messy storyline is poorly developed, with several holes and inconsistencies.

However, while as scriptwriter Ruiz has many shortcomings, it is as a director where his talent truly shines, as the visual narrative of "La última muerte" is a pretty slick and attractive one. An experienced director of music videos, Ruiz proves himself a resourceful filmmaker with a clear and well defined style, as well as a keen eye for visuals. Ruiz' vision of the future is notoriously grounded in realism, the technological advances of his future are subtle and purely utilitarian, closer to the world of "Gattaca" than to the one of "I, Robot". Through the camera of cinematographer Juan José Saravia, director David Ruiz gives his film a naturalist style, avoiding as much as possible the need for complex special effects (though there are a couple of scenes of unnecessary CGI) and aiming for a believable (and frighteningly probable) idea of the future. Sadly, for all of his technical skill, Ruiz doesn't manage to save the film from it's messy screenplay, and the result is a well narrated bad story.

The acting is of an uneven quality, with some pretty good performances and others that are downright mediocre. Álvaro Guerrero, who plays Dr. Jaime Alexanderson is pretty good in his role for the most part, pretty convincing as a man of science trying to solve this big puzzle that he found in his cabin. He adds a certain amount of gravity to the role that it's fitting, and his turn from meek man of science to a major player in the conspiracy is quite natural and believable. As the unknown man, Kuno Becker has solid moments as this confused and gravely ill man who finds himself at the center of everything. Unfortunately, his character is pretty limited by the screenplay and the result is uneven. The rest of the cast is pretty mediocre, and particularly poor are the performances of Alexandra de la Mora and Carols Kaspar, who play Dr. Alexanderson's best friends. Perhaps a saving grace is Carlos Bracho, who appears in a small but quite important role as millionaire entrepreneur Wilkins.

With its stylish visual look and remarkable camera work, "La última muerte" is a very well done movie in purely technical terms. However, it suffers from major problems in its screenplay, problems that director David Ruiz is unable to avoid. For starters, it's hard to understand the motivations that set the plot running. Certainly, it is hinted that Dr. Alexanderson's marital problems steam from guilt over the past, but it's an element that soon gets forgotten and left unnecessarily ambiguous. Another thing is that the story spends its time building up a certain dynamic between characters, and on the last third their acts begin to contradict themselves. It's clear that there was an attempt to make a big twist in the plot, but it feels too forced and lacked verisimilitude. Another thing is the inclusion of characters that suddenly become irrelevant (Manolo Cardona's character for example, in which a great work of acting is wasted). Sadly, it becomes obvious that the screenplay could had been benefited of the same care as the visual look.

David Ruiz' "La última muerte", while showcasing excellent production values and a high technical quality (not to mention a promising talent in its director), suffers from having a thinly developed screenplay that leaves more questions than answers, and not in a good way. While the premise is certainly interesting, the lack of consistency and the holes in the plot hurt the resulting product, which ends up as an unsatisfying film that never really takes off. In an industry that had forgotten science fiction for decades, it's refreshing to see attempts like "La última muerte". David Ruiz' film showcases that there's the talent to make a great looking science fiction film. It only needed a better done story.


No comments: