January 19, 2018
Thursday, September 13, 2012

I’m going deeper underground

A scene from Topos.
A scene from Topos.
A scene from Topos.

Topos proves that Argentine film can still deliver original, decent sci-fi flicks

by Pablo Suárez

For the Herald

In the imaginary universe depicted in local filmmaker Emiliano Romero’s Topos (“The Moles”) there are two very distinctive worlds: the underground, where the moles live, and another above the surface, where the powerful and the elite mingle. In the underworld, the moles survive as best as they can – which is not much, considering how their shabby living and confinement have isolated them from the rest of society. They have no choice but to endure unsatisfactory lives and perhaps hope for a better future that never comes. They have learnt how to survive and meet their basic needs, but that’s as far as the meaning of the word wellbeing goes for them.

Above the surface, where the law-abiding citizens and members of a profit-oriented society live, the scenario is the exact opposite. There is even a famed school of dance that gathers new talents and puts them under the spotlight. In fact, they are now waiting for Amadeo, a new and promising student bound to arrive any minute. Too bad that The Mole, the leader of the underground resistance, will kidnap him and then go to the dance school pretending to be the new student. The Mole is then to live among those he despises, but unexpected changes will gradually creep in and a whole new panorama will soon unfold. For better or for worse, there’s a transformation coming and nobody will be able to prevent it.

“Topos is on the verge of being surreal and grotesque, as it creates an allegory of Argentine society, its shadows, fantasies and nightmares. The story tells the transformation of a character that, as he searches for his dreams, has to adapt to an environment that leads him to change his values. Art, and here dance, seems to be the passion that drives our protagonist, but, in fact, it’s his ego and his need to feel superior to others that really make him do what he does,” states writer/director Emiliano Romero.

In order to convey such a surreal scenario, Romero and his crew have meticulously fabricated a cinematic world unlike any other in recent local cinema. Tunnels and burrows, narrow paths and dreamlike spaces, all of it enhanced by vibrant and saturated colors – the underworld, that is. As for the world above the surface, think of cold and unwelcoming rooms, bluish and grayish tones tinting open and dehumanized spaces. The contrast doesn’t get any starker. All films need their own, original settings and locations, and in this regard, and for the most part, Romero and his art direction department have succeeded.

The other main asset in Topos is the cinematography. You can tell that the person behind the camera certainly knew how to illuminate, capture and frame these colourful milieus. With a keen eye for detail, but also for the big picture, Romero immerses viewers into a rare sensorial experience. He doesn’t need flashy stylistic flourishes or visual extravaganzas other than those strictly required by the narrative. He doesn’t overwhelm viewers with a set of aesthetics that could distract them from the storyline. Considering how surreal and grotesque Topos is, its atmosphere is neither subdued not overstated but what the film rightfully called for. No minimalism and no monumentality are to be found here.

On the other hand, the screenplay is not that finely tuned. The problems here lie mainly in the lack of a strong dramatic progression to keep you engaged and wondering about what’s to come next. Not that the film drags very badly, but, from time to time (perhaps a tad too often) it does stall. Sometimes it feels as though it were only a series of connected vignettes with no crescendo from one to the next. There’s something off with the pacing, but it’s not a matter of the editing itself (which is fine): it is something in the very nature of the film, which tends to become repetitive and too descriptive, as if narrating through metaphors and allegories (always a risky and difficult task) only meant placing sequences one after the other – when, in fact, set up, transitions, and development are a must.

In terms of the film’s tone, I personally find the grotesque edge (but not the surreal) to be overstated, which is quite a flaw considering that the grotesque is overstated by definition. That’s not only to be seen in the acting (Lautaro Delgado, Leonor Manso, Mauricio Dayub, Gabriel Goity, Pompeyo Audivert, María Figueras and Ludovico Di Santo play the lead characters deftly), but in the film as a whole. In an attempt to reach paroxysm, I presume, Emiliano Romero went over the top, and in doing so, he diminished the film’s overall impact – here, more proves to be less. This is not to say that the film falls apart for this reason, but rather that it fails to have the necessary balance and cohesion between style and content.

As a result, Topos is an uneven feature that misses out on great potential, but also benefits from achieving a part of the expectations it arises.

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Edition No. 5055 - This publication is a property of NEFIR S.A. -RNPI Nº 5343955 - Issn 1852 - 9224 - Te. 4349-1500 - San Juan 141 , (C1063ACY) CABA - Director Perdiodístico: Ricardo Daloia