What comes first: pain or pleasure? Happiness or sadness? Does it hurt to love and be loved, or because we’re already in pain we need to find love? Will these dualities ever be able to exist separately? Do they happen at the same time? All these questions are presented in a very smart way in Amor, Dolor y Viceversa (Love, Pain & Vice Versa), the new film of Mexican director Alfonso Pieda Ulloa, written by Alex Marino, based on a story by Blás Valdez. They take a step further turning this existential duality into a matrix for the spectator: what if, not knowing if pain or love comes first, we also don’t know if it’s reality or fantasy?
Night after night, Chelo (Bárbara Mori, La Mujer de mi Hermano) dreams about an attractive and mysterious man with an accent. These dreams slowly consumed her life, to the point that after a year, she becomes so obsessed she doesn’t want to meet any other guys. Her friend Gaby (Irene Azuela, El Búfalo de la Noche) tries to tell Chelo to forget about the perfect man of her dreams and come back to reality but one day, Chelo shows up, crying, at a police precinct to give a description of a man who, supposedly, attacked and raped her. Was she really attacked? Is she making it all up? Is she in love with her attacker? Is it the man of her dreams or an ex-boyfriend?
Dr. Ricardo Márquez (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Plata Quemada) has been suffering the same nightmares for a year: a very attractive woman seduces him only to kill him. Even his fiancée (Marina de Tavira, La Zona) is annoyed and jealous by this recurrent woman of his nightmares, but Ricardo swears that he doesn’t know this woman. What happens next, I cannot give away. Their stories cross, the double-searching becomes a paradox, and dreams merge into reality – and viceversa. This dark psychological thriller is wonderfully depicted by cinematographer Damián García (Más Que a Nada en el Mundo), and the escalating, tension and he/she versions of the story accurately supported by editor Jorge Macaya (Fermat’s Room, also showing at Tribeca Festival 2008.) They have created a isolated, atemporal urban setting for these characters, detaching the story from any local references. This could be Mexico or it could be Bilbao or Detroit. I even overheard someone commenting “It doesn’t look Mexican!” due to the film’s Hollywoodesque quality in the lighting, texture and mood. But people shouldn’t be surprised about good Mexican cinema anymore, this is 2008. Mori’s performance is strong and convincing, subdued for a telenovela actress although sometimes a little too monotone. Sbaraglia’s performance? Well, he can’t fail. At his 37 years of age, he has been in almost the same amount of movies, and in some of them with highly emotional and difficult roles (Intacto, En La Ciudad Sin Límites.)
In this his first feature film, Pineda Ulloa jumps back and forth twisting the storyline and forking paths in a puzzle that is re-constructed from two different points of view. Sometimes he abuses the flashbacks, repetition of dreams, and a few obvious images to make some noise – how many times did you seen in movies a desperate man, fully dressed, crying under the shower? In spite of that, the double-way prey-predator game works great, and the evident scenes are balanced with some imaginative ones. This film is the only Latin American film among the twelve selected for the World Narrative Feature Competition, where The Aquarium (Egypt), Quiet Chaos (Italy) and Lost-Indulgence (China) are favorites, though Pineda Ulloa and Marino’s clever and original story has good chances too, and we hope Mexico takes home one of the most important Tribeca awards again, like last year did Enrique Begne with Dos Abrazos winning Best New Narrative Filmmaker award.
Do Chelo and Ricardo finally meet? Oh, they definitely do. But, is it real...?
(Written for Remezcla)