Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hola Mexico ’09: Meet the Head of Juan Perez

Small-time circuses are creepy, more like carnies than the greatest show on Earth. However, magician Juan Pérez thinks he has the key to rejuvenating his ramshackle organization. It involves a guillotine. What could go wrong with that? Given the film is told in flashbacks by Pérez’s freshly severed head, it seems like his escape act has gone irreparably wrong. Then again, it all could be an illusion in Emilio Portes’s dark comedy Meet the Head of Juan Pérez (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2009 Hola Mexico Film Festival.

Even pre-H1N1, business is down for Pérez’s not so big top. Unless he can liven up his act, he will part of the next round of layoffs. However, he gets a flash of inspiration from a 16th Century guillotine on display at the local museum. It has the perfect ominous look for his illusion, which makes sense considering this guillotine is reportedly cursed, the history of which is explained in humorously bloody animated sequences. As Pérez plots to steal the imposing execution device and save the circus, a wild misadventure follows, involving disgruntled clowns, trained poodles, and an old fortune teller.

Portes adds the trappings of horror films to the madcap caper movie for a distinctly macabre comedy blend. Despite the gruesome narrative device, he maintains the breakneck pace and irreverent tone. Aldo Max Rodriguez’s upbeat score also nicely counterbalances Meet’s more sinister elements.

Meet’s ensemble cast shows an affinity for the slapstick comedy and bizarre dramatic situations, particularly José Sefami as the angry jester-turned-museum guard Gorgo. Done wrong by the world and desperately coveting Pérez’s wife, he is not exactly a crying-on-the-inside kind of ex-clown. As the spectral Viscount, the guillotine’s rightful owner, Rubén Cristiany looks like he could have stepped out of a vintage Hammer Horror film. Walking a fine line as the protagonist and decapitated narrator, Silverio Palacios deftly manages to be just likable enough so the audience will enjoy watching the weird events unfold through his eyes, but not so endearing that his apparent ill-fate would undermine the on-screen laughs.

In his debut feature, Portes demonstrates a nice touch with free-wheeling, somewhat subversive comedy. For a DIY indie production, it is impressively ambitious, involving a large cast and extensive location shots. The resulting Meet is quite a bit of fun. It screens again during Hola Mexico this coming Friday (6/26), free under the stars at the Desalvio Playground (Spring & Mulberry Streets).