“Rezeta,” a much-deserved award-winner at Slamdance Film Festival 2014, delivers a heartbreakingly humane take on a familiar straight male fantasy.
Rezeta (Rezeta Veliu) is a young Albanian woman who has come to Mexico to advance her modeling career...despite her ignorance of Spanish. The support of fellow models and particularly a relationship with trailer custodian/aspiring punk rocker Alex (Roger Mendoza) allows the young model to survive and soon thrive in Mexico. Yet serious cracks eventually develop in Rezeta and Alex’s relationship thanks to their different backgrounds, and eventually painful choices must be made.
Less imaginative directors would have taken this simple story and performed the cinematic equivalent of mistaking a ready-made tent’s strength as being equivalent to that of the Transamerica Pyramid. Director Fernando Frias demonstrates, by contrast, his awareness that his film’s strength lies in using his story as a frame from which to hang both the glittering and dark jewelry of insightful character moments. Fortunately, “Rezeta” is a cinematic vault filled with such emotional valuables as the label maker Alex gives Rezeta, the pair sharing the stories behind their various tattoos, and a mock jam session featuring Alex on drums and Rezeta taking the lead singer role.
Binding these many charming moments together is Frias’ skillful tantalization of the viewer regarding Rezeta’s true nature. Is she a pretty woman who solely lives for sex, partying, and novelty? Or is Rezeta a woman who can both develop the connections that will advance her career as well as keep open a space where Alex can see the face she doesn’t show the world? It’s ironic that Alex’ punk attitude eventually gets revealed to be a mask which does a poor job of hiding his jealousies and resentments.
Both Frias and Veliu show they’re smart enough to know “Rezeta” could not coast by merely on the actress’ noticeable physical charms. Veliu’s performance makes you believe in Rezeta as both someone who displays a child’s love of life and a professional who knows how and when to project maturity beyond her years for the photographer’s camera. The climactic acting test, which Veliu passes very nicely, comes when Rezeta and Alex’s relationship suffers what may be a permanent split. Veliu’s combination of sorrow and self-aware inadequacy keeps a viewer guessing over the couple’s ultimate fate.
“Rezeta” uses a clever visual variation on the Russian nesting doll to offer a final insight into who Rezeta is. That touch demonstrates why seeing what Frias and/or Veliu will do next promises to be incredibly rewarding.
By contrast, Ross Kolton’s debut film “Aldo” provides an object lesson in doing a character study ineptly. Like “Rezeta,” Kolton’s Los Angeles-set story offers a small but familiar tale. Here, it’s a freelance barber whose huge gambling debts earn him violent retribution.
The character study fail aspect of “Aldo” comes from the film’s assumption that consumerism is the equivalent of developed characterization. But seeing a “California Split” poster in Aldo’s home or watching him visit an open-air market prove far less illuminating about his character than Kolton’s providing some clue whether Aldo’s spendthrift ways mask a self-destructive streak.
Despite “Aldo”’s relatively brief running time, a hobbled snail looks like Usain Bolt by comparison. Instead of whispering cleverness, the film’s final shot screams “Trying way too hard.”
A far less pretentious but infinitely more enjoyable IndieFest entry is last minute addition “Bounty Killer.” Henry Saine’s timely exploitation film marries much-needed anti-1% anger with healthy servings of essential genre ingredients. Viewers will be treated to the shooting of 50,000 bullets, beheadings and impalings galore, and enough female cleavage shots to make one of “Space Dandy”’s Boobies franchises resemble a nunnery.
In “Bounty Killer”’s post-apocalyptic future, powerful business interests’ corporate wars have left America a highly irradiated and anarchic wasteland. The mercenaries known as Bounty Killers serve this future America as both public executioners and rock-star level celebrities. These hunter/killers track down and slay the white collar criminals responsible for the corporate wars which destroyed America.
Drifter (Matthew Marsden) and Mary Death (Christian Pitre) are top Bounty Killers who maintain a love/hate working relationship. But when a bounty gets issued on Drifter’s head, his attempt to clear his name reveals both Bounty Killers’ secrets and a deadly corporate conspiracy.
Viewers not already alienated by “Bounty Killer”’s sex and violence levels will be put off by its lack of plausibility. The film doesn’t answer how slick celebrity magazines and precision made bullets continue to be made after the apocalypse’s occurrence. Nor does the film’s clunky and clichéd dialogue raise its IQ level much.
Yet it doesn’t matter as Saine knows precisely “Bounty Killer”’s audience demographic. Every bit of blood spatter or boob shot will satisfy his intended viewers. A use of a PBR six-pack as both product placement and clever joke demonstrates a puckish directorial intelligence at work.
Director Joe Begos’ visceral film debut “Almost Human” is definitely unassociated with the similarly titled TV series. The plot concerns the sudden return of Mark, who disappeared two years ago on a night of mysterious blue lights and unearthly alien screams. But the murder spree that Mark commits on his return points to a malevolent reason behind his re-appearance. Begos’ horrifyingly accomplished thriller may indeed be fictional. Yet its portrait of a spectacularly cruel and hostile universe feels disturbingly true.
“Kill List” director Ben Wheatley delivers one of 2014’s most essential films with his historical fantasy “A Field In England.” Four men desert the English Civil War’s chaos to search for an alehouse. Yet quietly sinister developments soon establish they weren’t brought together by happenstance. Amy Jump’s wonderfully smart script delivers a mix of timeless observation and earthy humor. “A Field In England”’s horrifying graphic violence and mind-mangling hallucinatory visuals will expand the horizons of even viewers lacking psilocybin mushrooms.
(“Almost Human” is slated for commercial release. “A Field In England” is already available for download on iTunes.)