QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM ROTTERDAM
This elliptical drama is set in the late 1990s in Galicia, the Northwestern region of Spain more commonly associated with idyllic yet precarious rural life – as seen in recent films such as Fire Will Come (Olivier Laxe, 2019), Elisa and Marcela (Isabel Coixet, 2019), () , The Beasts (Rodrigo Sorogoyen, 2022) and The Rye Horn (jaione Camborda, 2023). Galician filmmaker Alberto Gracia chose to make his film in a gloomy and decadent urban scenario, stricken by poverty and hopelessness: the once thriving port city of Ferrol. Significantly, this is also the birth place of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco, the murkiest and the dirtiest figure in Spain’s recent history.
Forty-three-year Damian (Alfonso Míguez) is unemployed and living in Madrid. He barely has money to buy groceries, and his bed is literally collapsing under his weight. His hair is dishevelled, his body scrawny and his worn-out facial features make him look much older, confirming his primitive existence on the margins of society. He hopes to earn €150,000 by taking part in a television contest. The filmmaker opts to capture Damian and the slimy presenter in front of a green screen (instead of the colourful background added in a atudio), thus crafting a sense of emptiness and desolation. Damian fails to win the money, and returns to his native Ferrol.
He stays with an old friend, an elderly woman called Doña Pilar (Pilar Soto), who runs a small guest house on the second or third floor of a soulless building. The place is called La Parra (as in the Spanish film title), but that you will only notice if you pay very close attention, and read the sign that’s only partially visible behind a crane. This is a highly fragmented film, and not all puzzle pieces fit together neatly together. This doesn’t prevent the filmmaker from creating a beguiling picture of chaos. There is beauty in the dark, filthy and dreary urban landscape, populated by bizarre and eccentric creatures. The other guests include Monica (Lorena Iglesias) – a young woman who insists that Damian should go out dancing, and gives him a hand with a very dangerous request -, as well as various nameless characters. Ugly people taken straight out of the Diane Arbus universe.
Two persons insist that Damien is actually called Cosme, but he dismisses these comments. Parallel to Damian’s story, a group of blind people desperately seek their tour guide, a man called Cosme (played by the filmmaker Alberto Gracia), unaware that the fully-sighted male has just committed suicide. They have been left to fend for themselves in the middle of a countryside trail. The man with the most vision (which consists of little more than a few shadows and flashes) attempts to reach a road and take the group back to safety. This is literally the blind leading the blind. However absurd this plot may sound, these scenes have a deeply humanistic element, and are gently moving.
The main narrative thread develops around Damian/Cosme’s identity, with viewers being left to guess the connection between the two men. Are they possibly the same person? Has Damian in reality died? Our protagonist encounters death at least one more time as he seeks to reclaim his car, which was mysteriously towed by a private company. Or is this maybe a concoction of Damian’s mind, who may have never possessed a vehicle? Archive footage of a real-life tragedy is deftly inserted into the story, as Damian’s sense of isolation is blended with his own city’s (which becomes temporarily disconnected from the rest of the world, thus turning into a virtual island). The fantastic film ending provides some answers, just enough to keep viewers thinking about the film for days to come.
The exquisite music score adds a touch of otherworldliness to the story. The sounds are dissonant. An aggressive electronic track suddenly punches viewers on the face as the blind people seek their guide. Bizarre strings and distant drumming are featured in the most unlikely moments. This is a movie that sets out to confound viewers and then force them to find their own way out of this jarring, perverse and yet unexpectedly alluring little world. It fully succeeds. This is a singular piece of filmmaking, with a distinctive auteurial voice.
The Rim just premiered at the 53rd International Film Festival Rotterdam.