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by Jay Seaver

"Time flies..."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The big question after this screening was "when did you see it", referring to the compositional trick going on through the film, which maybe speaks to how it's more of a visual gimmick than something that enhances the film's themes without overstating them. Which is a shame, because as much as that particular element may or may not work for a viewer, it does play into what filmmaker Jon Mikel Caballero is going for, helping to focus a genre often played for laughs into something a little more thoughtful.

It starts with a group of friends heading to a house in the country for the weekend, one that Alba (Iria del Rio) used to visit when she was a child. With her are her kind-of-snotty boyfriend Pablo (Adam Quintero), square-but-funny Mark (Jimmy Castro) and his girlfriend Claudia (Irene Ruiz), would-be YouTube star Mancha (Adrián Expósito), and cheerful-but-unemployed Sira (Nadia de Santiago). It should be fun, but as is often the case, it's complicated; Alba's father is having health issues and things are starting to fray with her and Pablo, while Mark and Claudia have their own things to bring up. It is not, necessarily, the sort of weekend where one wants to get caught in a time loop, especially one that Alba soon discovers is an hour shorter each time through.

Many time-loop stories are built to create a sort of existential despair or repetitive trauma underneath the comedy of being able to predict what's coming and figure out a situation given enough reps, but the twist Caballero puts on it gets to an intriguing and resonant paradox: Alba has not been doing much with her youth, only to suddenly get hit with the idea that there's less she can do and less time to do it than she thought. It's a take that has bits of wasted potential and bits of dying young to it, but isn't about making existence seem pointless with drudgery. Alba is on vacation, and it's potentially nice, but it's limited, and making the most of the good times, it turns out, takes effort and consideration rather than just casting one's cares aside and living for the moment.

It's a strong idea but one that didn't necessarily get translated into events that well; unlike most movies in this subgenre, this one never has a period where Alba is trying to figure out what's happening or do something about it before getting to acceptance. In a way, that's just her character, and giving Alba a puzzle to solve would put that in the foreground, but it leaves a chunk of time in the middle when the film seems to be running out the clock as surely as she is, and while there must be some waste to realize that time is precious, it's not the audience's time that should be wasted. Caballero really doesn't seem to have a great idea of how to fill the time before the resets get tighter, and that's a frustrating issue at some points.

As a result, Iria del Rio doesn't have much in the way of big, meaningful declarations to make as Alba ruminates, but she gets at a way to make Alba appealing even if she is somewhat below her potential, seizing the scenes where she has to show a practical intelligence and making them seem both like hidden talents and totally natural. Her anxiety transforms over the course of the film, and she's got a nice rapport with Jimmy Castro as Mark, who is half of the film's most easily enjoyable couple with Irene Ruiz's Claudia. Adam Quintero finds a nice spot of Pablo maybe not being right without Caballero having to write him as a jerk.

Caballero puts things together well, building urgency as the film goes along without making it into something improperly suspenseful. There's some really nice work by cinematographer Tânia da Fonseca, too: This is a great-looking movie all around, starting a bit ahead of the game with the camera often pointed at pretty locations, but the way she had to reframe for different shapes throughout seems deceptively tricky, and her knack for shooting with depth comes in handy as the screen becomes a window the audience is peering through.

There may be tricks here, but everybody rises to the challenge to make an impressive film, one of the more clever takes on what has now become something of a familiar gimmick.

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originally posted: 03/17/20 11:25:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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