Fantastic Fest 2010: Capone gets weepy just thinking about how much he loves Spain's AGNOSIA!!!
Published at: Sept. 28, 2010, 9:04 p.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Austin here.
It seems the mission statement for choosing films at Fantastic Fest is that when the chosen film is completed, the audience should simply go "Wow!" With 95 percent of the films I've seen here, the Wow comes from explosive or creative violence, action, visual gymnastics, or weirdness. But every so often, a film like Spain's AGNOSIA comes along that earns its reaction from simply being gorgeous and moving and featuring fully realized, stellar narrative. Set at the turn of the last century, the film opens with a meeting between Spanish telescopic lens designers and German weapons makers who are there to see the latest in rifle scope technology. And the sequence ends with a little girl collapsing and her Prince Charming helping her to her feet as her eyes begin to fail her.
We jump ahead many years, and it turns out the girl, Joana (Bárbara Goenaga), is suffering from a rare neuropsychological disease called Agnosia which eliminates the filters from her eyes to her brain letting in every stimulus and making it nearly impossible for her to trust her vision. Her entire castle-like home that she shares with her father caters to her special needs, and Joana's hero from her childhood is Carles (the Spanish superstar Eduardo Noriega) is not her husband to be as well as her father's business partner. It turns out that the telescopic lens on display in the earliest scene was broken when Joana fell, and her father decided never to release the formula to recreate the lens.
But a competing manufacturer run by Prevert (Martina Gedeck) designs an elaborate scheme to get the formula that will take advantage of Joana disability and her desire to be cured of it. A doctor on the take says the only way to cure Joana is to leave her in a room with no sensory stimuli--sound proofed, almost no light, and no contact with the outside world for three days. At this point, Vincen (Felix Gomez), a former servant in Joana's household is hired to take get a makeover that makes him look and sound just like Carles and sneak into her isolated room to seduce the formula out of her.
Turns out Vincen has always been in love with Joana and makes himself into a version of Carles that the original one was, nearly forgetting what his mission is. When I first saw the room where Joana is sequestered, I gasped. It's both beautiful and eerie with dark gray curtains and attendants who swoop in and out of the room covered head to toe in the same material, so they are essentially invisible to Joana. But they look like members of a strange medical cult. Screenwriter Antonio Trashorras (THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE) and director Eugenio Mira (THE BIRTHDAY) skillfully manage to make a period film without an overpowering wall of melodrama holding it back. There's a great elegance to Mira's direction, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the breathtaking work by cinematographer Unax Mendía, who adds just a hint of '60s and '70s Hammer Films creepiness to the proceedings. I fell in love with the look of AGNOSIA.
I can't imagine there wasn't a slightly less complicated of getting Joana to give up the formula (assuming she even knows it), but then that wouldn't have been a very interesting movie. I was especially touched by Noriega's performance as a man who has been destined to be with Joana for the rest of his life, despite the fact that anyone asked him what he wanted. He clearly loves Joana, but his distanced demeanor around her makes it clear that he holds a low-level resentment for having his destiny taken out of his hands. For him, there's no bitterness or resentment, just a sadness behind his eyes that tells his story quite clearly.
But when my mind travels back to AGNOSIA, I think of the rich visuals, hypnotic score (by the director), and a powerful, utterly unique love triangle with a final act that will strum all of your emotional chords. I've heard the film has a release schedule for pretty much everywhere in the world but the United States, but I can't imagine some classy distributor won't solve that problem any day now. Not that I pay attention to these sort of criteria, but this is the kind of film that gets Oscar nominations and actually deserves them.
There are several films I've seen at Fantastic Fest that I dream of showing to readers in the Chicago area, but AGNOSIA is right at the top of my list. I love showing people films that make them cry for all the right reasons. This is a film with devastating power, some of the best performances I've seen all year, and a visual scheme that makes it impossible to even blink. Oh, you'll like this one like it were a member of your family that you love the most. I'm getting weepy just thinking about it...
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