Friday, June 26, 2009

Hola Mexico ’09: Love, Pain & Vice-Versa

An attractive architect and a heart surgeon might sound like a dream couple, but unfortunately they turn out to be a nightmare together—literally. It becomes difficult to distinguish between fantasy and reality, as the former increasingly intrudes on the latter, in Alonso Pineda-Ulloa’s dark psychological-metaphysical thriller Love, Pain & Vice-Versa, which screened during this year’s Hola Mexico Film Festival.

In addition to boasting some very cool graphic design, Hola Mexico proves there is more to Mexican cinema than just masked wrestlers—though they certainly have their place. The fest has a tradition of programming dark, edgy films, which definitely includes Vice-Versa this year.

Chelo thinks Dr. Marquez is the man of her dreams, which is quite understandable, since she only sees him while she sleeps. Finding flesh-and-blood men are unable to compete with her dream lover, she resolves to find him in real life. However, she adopts a less than romantic tactic by faking a sexual assault in order to give his description to the police. Suddenly, she comes face-to-face with Marquez, divided only by the two-way mirror of the station’s interrogation room. And then things get a little strange.

Vice-Versa is the kind of film that defies simple thumbnail summaries. It takes repeated twists and turns, adding further layers of meaning to every prior scene. Essentially, we see events from both his and her perspectives, but their perceptions of reality are radically different. Fortunately, Barbara Mori and Leonardo Sbaraglia, as Chelo and Marquez respectively, make it all work quite effectively, through performances that are simultaneously compellingly sympathetic and creepily ominous, depending on which perspective the same encounter is seen from.

Pineda fits together the yin and yang of the two versions of reality relatively seamlessly, though he does leave some questions open regarding how delusional certain characters truly are. He keeps the tension ratcheted up and maintains the atmosphere of mystery throughout the film. Composer Roque Banos’s Bernard Hermann-influenced score also contributes to the unnerving vibe.

Vice-Versa seems like a film that is destined to attract a passionate following. It is a tense, well constructed thriller that nicely represents the diversity of Mexican cinema. It is a perfect selection for the Hola Mexico Film Festival, which continues through Sunday night at the Quad Cinema.