Friday, July 22, 2016

Fantasia ’16: Aloys

Aloys Adorn is a private eye, but he follows more in the tradition of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Erasers than Hammett or Chandler. Nondescript and unassuming to a fault, Adorn is perfect for divorce surveillance. Following the death of his father (who was also his partner and roommate), Adorn withdraws from life in a manner worthy of Bartleby the Scrivener, but a strange neighbor will try to pull him back, sort of, in Tobias Nölle’s Aloys (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.

It is not like a lot of people are yearning to engage with Adorn, but he will freeze out any who try. That includes his rather odd neighbor Vera. Apparently, she was so frustrated with him, she stole his video camera and digital tapes. That would be before her accident-slash-suicide attempt. He used to watch his old surveillance footage each night, in lieu of having a life, but she will force him outside his comfort zone instead.

She calls it “telephone walking,” but it is essentially a mutual visualization exercise. In this case, it might actually work. Soon Adorn is projecting himself to a mossy forest, where he meets the hospitalized Vera. Or maybe it is an idealized version of her. Regardless, he soon starts to feel some kind of something for her, especially when she joins him in his apartment for groovy, retro-1970s console-organ party.

Aloys is a very strange film, but also an understated one, as you would perhaps expect from the German-speaking Swiss. Nölle’s mastery of mise-en-scène is conspicuously evident in each and every carefully composed shot. He and cinematographer Simon Guy Fässler make Euro drabness look dramatically stark. Yet, he might be too thorough when it comes to problematizing ostensive reality. Once the telephone walking starts, he never lets viewers get their feet back under them, though not all cult cinema fans will object to that.

Without question, Nölle elevates style over narrative, so be prepared to deal (or not). However, the hypnotic control he exerts is almost eerie. There is substance to the surreal flights, but do not look for easy, programmatic symbolism. Just call it an existential trip. Recommended for the adventurous, Aloys screens again this Wednesday (7/27) as part of Fantasia ’16.