Sunday, December 10, 2017

If You Can Screen It There: Plants

Graphic novels and manga can be helpful. During trying times, they can be a source of distraction, or perhaps even a forewarning of danger. A series about body-snatching sentient flora will at least provide the former to a moody fan girl in Roberto Doveris’s Plants (trailer here), which screens this Thursday as part of Anthology Film Archive’s ongoing series, If You Can Screen It There: Premiering Contemporary Latin American Cinema.

Florencia (Flor) is clearly going through a rough patch. Her brother SebastiƔn (Seba) rests at home, but persists in a vegetative state, while her mother is hospitalized with a potentially life-threatening illness. Her father lives abroad and remains intentionally out of touch, so the once-privileged family now faces desperate financial circumstances. Forced to let go their live-in nurse, Flor must care for her brother herself. On the positive side, this gives her carte blanche to cut class whenever she feels like it.

It is too bad Doveris is not really telling the story of the Las Plantas comic book-within-the-film, because it sounds like it would be a really cool riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He could also probably draw a fair degree of suspense out of the genre elements, judging from his simple but evocative handling of Flor’s dream sequences. Instead, he is more interested in teen angst—and boy is there plenty of that.

Before we go any further, it should be established Flor is seventeen-years-old, just like the kid in Call Me by Your Name and still a year shy of the Chilean age of consent. There is no question she is sexualized in Plants, but it is deliberately disturbing (rather than romanticized, as in Guadagnino’s film).

For the record, Argentine pop star Violeta Castillo is twenty-two years-old and truly remarkable as Flor. It is a bold performance, calibrated to discomfit viewers by punctuating her coy faux innocence with flashes of fierceness. Ironically, she receives the most effective support from Mauricio Vaca, who subtly suggests moments of pointed lucidity as the uncommunicative Seba. They both project hints of something dark and incestuous shared between the siblings.

Plants will leave viewers hungry for a sci-fi/horror film about parasitic vegetation. The audience should also be duly impressed by Castillo’s raw and gutsy screen debut. It probably has enough fandom references to have earned it considerable play at genre film festivals during past years, but not in the current, post-Kevin Spacey-Woody Allen climate. Recommended for edgy hipsters and Castillo’s fans, Plants screens this Thursday (12/14) at Anthology Film Archives, as part of If You Can Screen It There (but a lot of us might prefer to re-watch Little Shop of Horrors and Day of the Triffids instead).