Friday, January 16, 2009

3 Días

Shortly after the start of this film, set in a sluggish southern Spanish pueblo, men in a bar watch as the UN Secretary General appears on a flickering televsion screen to announce the end of the world — a solar storm has regretably diverted a monster meteorite into the Earth's path and in spite of all of mankind's best efforts it's going to be Game Over in 3 days. Soz.

In any other movie this situation would provide the genre-defining engine of the plot. Not here however, because F. Javier Gutiérrez has elected to use the countdown to apocalypse as a filter for casting a new light on the fairly standard psycho-thriller that is his real business.

For the family whose fate we are to follow here have an even more acute problem than mass extinction — 20 years ago they helped put a pyschotic kiddy fiddler behind bars, and now this man, Lúcio aka el Soro, has broken out of jail so as to dedicate his last 72 hours to a bestial spree of vengeance.

In Spain this conscious muddling of formats has been described as 'daring' by numerous critics, but you can get a feel for just how fruitless it is by transposing another genre into the narrative nucleus....such as a romcom.

Suppose for instance, that the director of Sleepless in Seattle had daringly decided to introduce a cataclysmic celestial collision into the final scene when Tom and Meg finally hook up on top of the Empire State Building? Indeed, V and I had fun over dinner last night trying to think of any film we've watched over the past couple of years which would have been improved by the programmed arrival of a substantial chunk of interstellar debris in the last act.

It certainly makes it harder for one to care about the outcome for characters who are all scheduled to be vaporised anyway. And the tension one feels as the pyscho killer (or romantic lover...) gets closer to his goal is trounced by the 'noise' of that other ticking clock in the background.

3 Días has plenty of other defects to overcome. It's one of the most cinematographically self-regarding films I have ever come across. Show rather than tell is pretty good advice for novelists, but sometimes less so for film directors. Even if you remove the big rock this doesn't even work particularly well as a thriller, except perhaps on a purely visual level. The storytelling is all over the place and the dialogue is poor to boot.

There are a couple of other daring and pointless elements to the argumento too. Such as the fact that this we would appear to be in a parallel universe positioned technologically somewhere around 1980, and the way the director occasionally appears to be lingering on the nascent sexuality of the young adolescent girls in the family group. (This triggered another dinnertime discussion about whether Hollywood scripts generally shy away from female characters in the 13-15 age bracket.)

A crucial missed opportunity occurs early on in the movie when Abuela enters a packed church — seemingly the only place in town which isn't already patas arriba following the news — and asks for some neighbourly help in fighting off el Soro. The congregation inform her quite brutally that they have bigger problems to worry about. And of course they are right. In my view Gutiérrez could easily have improved his genre blend by examining this particular conflict of priorities a little more deeply. But he's bizarrely hampered himself even further by maintaining the conceit that the children have to be kept ignorant about the imminent meteorite strike, so that by the time el Soro shows up, 4 out of 5 of his potential victims have no way of examining their own thrilling situation in the light of the bigger picture.

One might also add that Cormac McCarthy's The Road indicates that more nuanced, open-ended...of the world-scenarios can provide a better backdrop for asking the kind of questions that Gutiérrez seems to have wanted to ask here.

Anyway, 3 Días might have 'triumphed' at the Malaga Film Festival, but V's conclusion — one I find it hard to disagree with — was that this is one big mushy, stinky 0rote of a movie.

Grade: C+

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