Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Bastards: all in a day's work

Melbourne International Film Festival

The Bastards (Los bastardos) is an award winning Mexican film. It’s mostly Spanish language though it’s set in the United States. Fausto (Rubén Sosa) and Jesus (Jesus Moises Rodriguez) are illegal day labourers. They have been hired to murder someone. We follow them on their mission.

In only his second feature length movie, writer/director Amat Escalante clearly worked at using his limited budget by the use of unconventional techniques:
Basically I was looking for a feeling of overwhelming fear. Something that is bigger than us but you cannot define.
Los Bastardos blog
Nina Zavarin gives a disturbing performance as Karen, a lost soul in LA suburbia. Trevor Glen Campbell as her son Trevor does a convincing job of alienated teenager.

The strengths of this very experimental piece are also the roots of its weaknesses:
  • Long takes with little or no panning or use of zoom. Characters occasionally move in and out of frame and there is the odd dolly shot. The lack of variety is irritating and hard to justify in many of the scenes.
  • Action taking place off-camera, sometimes “behind” the camera. It's trite and ineffective.
  • Long silences, that cause us to lose interest as the story does not progress.
  • Sparse dialogue. The characters’ motivation or psychological states remain too clouded.
  • The use of actors with no experience. (Nina Zaravin was an exception.) There are few intense verbal clashes between characters.
It was shot in “five intensive weeks” of filming. A redeeming feature is the absence of the shaky hand-held photography that has been so trendy but is rarely used effectively. Unfortunately the cinematic style adopted does not lead to increased drama.

It would be wrong to classify this as an action movie. Very little happens. Nor does it quite hit the mark as horror or thriller. There is some suspense but it doesn’t provide the tingling tension or build-up we associate with these genre.

It isn’t very nail-biting. You just wish they would get on with it. It’s certainly edgy at times but the snail pace is frustrating. The only surprise is not what happens but when.

Going by the awards The Bastards has received, there is a keen audience for this film. This gives some hope to independent filmmakers with little money. Unfortunately it is unlikely to reach the cult status of films like Robert Rodriguez's el cheapo El mariachi.

There are many other measures of success. A last word from Amat Escalante:
I think the most interesting and amazing thing that I've done with my second feature, on a personal level, is working with two people who are not actors who at first could not believe that they were going to be in a movie and then get to the Cannes festival ... a movie with them is an experience that changes your life, both they and myself.
Los Bastardos blog

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