Monday, July 28, 2008

Hola Mexico: 3:19

One probably would not expect to see the work of Czech novelist Milan Kundera represented at the Hola Mexico Film Festival, but a key scene from the Unbearable Lightness of Being found its way on-screen, albeit briefly and in animated form. Dany Saadia’s 3:19 (Spanish trailer here) takes on not just Kundera, but French mathematician Évariste Galois and biologist Paul Kammerer, all in a contemporary story of love and mourning.

Through a series of chance occurrences, young Ilan sees Lisa, his perfect woman, and even gets her email address thanks to the efforts of a friend. However, chance has not been kind to him. Stricken with cancer, Ilan becomes preoccupied with forging a posthumous connection with Lisa while he confronts his own mortality. He charges his loyal friends, the easygoing Everyman Eric, and Andy, the well-meaning knucklehead, with fulfilling his ambition, but gives them only vague instructions. He is clear on one point—he wishes to be cremated, regardless of Jewish tradition, which supplies the film with its title, from Genesis 3:19: “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Saadia frequently cuts away from his contemporary story with animated episodes from the lives of Galois and Kammerer, as well as the scene from Unbearable. Kundera’s celebrated novel becomes a touchstone for Ilan, because he sees in its tale of people brought together through chance a parallel to his own life. Kammerer’s Seriality Theory that so-called coincidences were really the result of a larger causal force clearly relates to the themes of 3:19. However, the relevance of Galois’s life is less readily apparent, aside from the fact that the mathematician might have been on the receiving end of some rather unfortunate chance events himself. Saadia brings it all together at the end (but in venue that does not entirely make sense).

For all its philosophical egg-headedness, 3:19 packs a surprisingly emotional punch. Ilan’s final scene with his two friends is written with complete honesty and believability, despite his rather unusual request. While there are painful moments shared by Ilan and his family, the three friends’ relationship form the emotional center of the film. Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Felix Gómez, and Juan Díaz, as Ilan, Eric, and Andy respectively, are indeed convincing, keeping the audience invested in their characters.

Even when their significance is somewhat obscure, the animated sequences are stylishly distinct and fascinating, often conveying some lesser known intellectual history. 3:19 also lays claim the coolest opening titles seen in years. While the film might sound gimmicky, the execution is tightly focused and the acting is quite assured. 3:19 is a very satisfying film that really stays in the consciousness after screening it. It was the best film I saw this year at Hola Mexico, which really was a friendly, well run festival that happily should be returning to New York next year.