In Julio Torres’ delightfully surrealist debut characteristic Problemista, a boy anxious to drag off the seemingly unimaginable meets a lady who has by no means considered her calls for as unbelievable. What an unlikely pair they make: Alejandro (performed by Torres), an aspiring toy designer determined for a piece visa, and Elizabeth (Tilda Swinton), a widowed artwork critic frantically making an attempt to protect her husband’s legacy. He’s mild, reserved and simply imposed-upon by the merciless challenges of the world. She is exacting, malcontent and has by no means been informed “no” in her life.
Their first encounter is an accident. A rejection from the Hasbro expertise incubator program forces Alejandro, a current immigrant from El Salvador, to take a job overseeing our bodies at a human cryogenic freezing firm — lest he lose his visa. He’s tasked with watching over the chamber-bound physique of Elizabeth’s husband, Bobby (RZA). They’re swiftly launched throughout a go to by which a livid Elizabeth sweeps in like a hurricane to dispute a invoice. Radiating stress and agitation, her presence perturbs the opposite workers. Alejandro finds her intriguing.
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Their subsequent encounter is a piece of probability. After tripping on a wire and momentarily disconnecting Bobby’s physique chamber from the outlet, Alejandro is unceremoniously fired by administration. His dismissal coincides with one other go to from Elizabeth — the invoice nonetheless in dispute, her endurance sporting skinny. When he helps her transfer Bobby’s work from the storage on the freezer firm again to his studio, she conscripts him to curate a gallery present for her late husband’s finely detailed work of eggs. With no choices, no curatorial expertise or working data of the database software program FileMaker Professional, Alejandro agrees to the job.
They title the present “13 Eggs” — a literal reference to the variety of egg work Bobby left in Elizabeth’s care earlier than he froze himself for the longer term. These giant, richly coloured nonetheless lives depict eggs in motion and at relaxation, hiding behind thick curtains and basking within the shadow of a wine glass. Alejandro and Elizabeth converse of them within the humorously effortful poetic phrases of the artwork world.
The work make up one in all a number of wry and charming threads in Problemista, a assured debut whose surrealist ambitions by no means undercut its coronary heart. Torres, a former SNL author and a creator of the disappointingly short-lived HBO comedy Los Espookys, makes use of his distinctive aesthetic to assemble a delicate and keenly noticed story of self-actualization.
Problemista unfolds in its personal universe, untethered to the logic of our world. Torres, who additionally wrote the screenplay, bathes us within the layers of his imaginative and prescient: Voiceover narration by Isabella Rossellini lures us into the previous, the place we study Alejandro’s imaginative and sheltered childhood along with his attentive artist mom Dolores (Catalina Saavedra); DP Fredrik Wenzel’s sweeping camerawork plunges us into Alejandro’s verdant childhood dwelling in El Salvador earlier than whisking us to the grey, trash-filled streets of Brooklyn, the place the younger artist now lives; and Robert Ouyang Rusli’s crisp and thrilling rating propels us from one second to the subsequent.
The movie begins with the fantastical storybook high quality of a Wes Anderson movie earlier than slipping into the contours of a office comedy that calls to thoughts novels like Ling Ma’s Severance (no relation to the TV present) and Raven Leilani’s Luster. Scenes of Alejandro filming a video resumé or checking in along with his supervisor throughout his temporary stint on the cryogenic lab seize the heightened stiffness and discomfort of workplace politics.
Earlier than we get too snug with that register, Problemista shape-shifts once more. Now it’s a comically charged however sobering tackle the demoralizing U.S. immigration system. Then a portrait of desperation as Alejandro scrambles to seek out jobs that may assist him pay his immigration charges and make hire. Later, it turns right into a honest story of his and Elizabeth’s blossoming friendship.
The 2 begin on neither heat nor chilly phrases. The connection is, at first, about transactions. Alejandro wants a visa sponsor; Elizabeth, a repository for her anxieties. With time — most of it spent operating round New York to get better Bobby’s work or with Elizabeth imploring Alejandro to get the database so as — the richness of their connection turns into extra obvious. Torres and Swinton play out their characters’ respective affections with understated deftness. Progress of their bond is measured within the harried trade of voice notes, realizing glances and, for Alejandro, the boldness to finally arise for himself and in opposition to Elizabeth’s nervous vitality and erratic calls for.
If I’m making Problemista sound prefer it’s drippingly sentimental, it’s not. Torres has created a bizarre and particular little movie, one which displays his explicit tastes and curiosities. Elements of the screenplay might need allow us to guess a bit of extra reasonably than doting on us (as Dolores does her son), questioning if we’ll join the items on this narrative puzzle. Torres’ self-assurance is extra obvious within the absurdist asides and particulars he scatters all through. A visible deal with arms, an elaborate maze as a metaphor for the labyrinthine immigration system and a kind of alternate universe the place he tackles his most troublesome conversations and choices — these are the strikes which have earned, and can proceed to earn, Torres an enthusiastic fanbase. They’re the thrives of a director with an enviable creativeness, a filmmaker who’s stubbornly and admirably engaged on his personal phrases.