Friday, 12 October 2018

The Queen Of Fear

Fear Fresher

The Queen Of Fear
(aka La Reina Del Miedo)

2018 Argentina/Denmark
Directed by Valeria Bertuccelli & Fabiana Tiscornia
Screened at the London Film Festival Wednesday 10th October 2018.

The Queen Of Fear is the first of my very slim selection of films to see at this year’s London Film Festival and it was a bit of a quickie choice for me. That is to say, a good friend of mine was flying in for a few days, she’d never been to the LFF before and, of the movies which were showing at times we could manage, this is the one I thought looked the most interesting (of those not already sold out). As it is, it might well be the best thing I see at the 2018 Festival, it turns out.

The film explores a week or so in the life of a famous actress called Robertina, as she tries to deal with a one woman show she is writing and starring in, while trying to juggle certain other things in her life and maintain her sanity in a lifestyle of people who demand her time and attention and while she’s also working through her paranoia and fear associated with various sections of her life. As a nice parallel to that, The Queen Of Fear is not only written by and starring Valeria Bertuccelli as the main protagonist and focus of the film... she’s also co-directed it, thus making the movie a kind of counterpart to certain plot elements as her character's life plays out.

Robertina is, as the title of the movie suggests, a woman who carries her daily fears with her like a shroud and keeps her anxieties locked up inside her all the time while she tries to portray a kindly and helpful person at ease with her surroundings. There are a fair few things which are cumulatively adding to her anxieties... primarily the fact that she is not present (and doesn’t even have the content figured out yet) for the rehearsals of her one woman show as she is trying to deal with an old friend called Lisandro, played here by Diego Velazquez, who is probably going to be dying of cancer any time now and who she is trying to help in person in Denmark, when she should be figuring out the form and content of her show in Argentina. Added to this we have mysterious power outages in her home which may (or may not) be caused by some kind of stalker, we have her deliberately irritating and histrionic maid not getting on with her other household staff and we have a recent husband who has just, ‘probably’ (as far as she can tell) left her life after a few weeks/months of marriage and who is also just at the periphery of her day to day.

Actually, it’s the power cuts which provide the strongest visual metaphor of Robertina’s constant flight into fear and it’s with one of these that the movie opens with... and returns to... time and time again, before bringing a resolution, of sorts, in the final scene. It’s also an interesting opening which clearly shows the striking visual design of the film, which is evident in almost every scene. Bertuccelli has a quite obvious penchant for building her shots up from vertical and horizontal lines and this first set of interior shots demonstrates it in no uncertain terms. Like many directors in the past, she uses these patterns to split and redefine the visual planes on her screen and this is particularly evident in the shot where, after spending some time with her ‘ex’ husband who she catches in her house one night, she frames both characters in a small, vertical rectangle in the centre of the screen from inside the house, looking out as they are talking outside by his car.

And did I mention that she has a very white house?

A white house of primarily vertical lines which are prominent when she walks through it, often dressed in pale colours or white herself, like a fortress of light to protect her from the sometimes less perfectly composed but still fairly anemic colouring of the outside world as she moves her cautious way through it. Even her dog, Jimmy, is completely white, it seems, to enhance the effect.

My favourite part of the movie, which made me laugh out loud for a second, was when the heightened sense of vertical and horizontal lines are completely overplayed in one scene and, judging by the carefree nature of the film, this is a deliberate moment of toying with the audience on a visual level. It’s a short sequence where Robertina is seen in  a medium shot in foreground wearing a cream and white top consisting of sections of both vertical and horizontal slabs and, as the camera is tracking her, she passes by a zebra crossing of white vertical lines and the collision of the large, looming road surface with her costume seemed like movie makers having fun with the mise en scène to show the audience that they are quite aware of the elaborate, possibly overwrought but certainly charming frame designs they are running with here. Which is fine by me... like I said, I laughed out loud (which is fairly unusual for me, I guess).

This heightened sense of artifice is ably aided by a central and dominant, tour de force performance by Valeria Bertuccelli which is both very funny but also extremely emotionally charged and moving at times, especially in the wonderful relationship she has with her dying friend Lisandro... Velazquez is just amazing here too and I’d happily watch a movie just of the two of them talking in a room for a couple of hours. The on-screen chemistry and the way Lisandro kind of takes care of her when it should be the other way around, even as it’s made clear to the audience that, despite her intentions, she’s not the best or most attentive of friends to those of her who she chooses to call as such, is just brilliant.

Another brilliant thing about this movie is when the rug is pulled out from under the audience toward the end. When we see the opening of her first (and possibly last) performance of the play which she has been trying and mostly failing to commit her time to, we have a moment when we think the downward spiral of the events of the last few days has finally gotten to her and finished the character off for good. Instead, audience expectations are nicely and cleverly upended when we find out her character is a lot stronger than we thought in the most brilliant way... but I don’t want to give it away to readers of this review so I won’t elaborate here.

What I will say, though, is the film has a heightened sense of drama in certain key sequences due to the way the score by composer Vicentico is written and spotted. And by spotted I mean the all important way in which sections of a motion picture are chosen to either be accompanied by an underscore (or song)... or not. Jerry Goldsmith, for example, was an absolute master of spotting movies in preliminary discussions with his directors, often going with a ‘less is more’ kind of approach to the project at hand which wasn’t always a fashionable stance. However, this movie demonstrates how useful these kinds of decisions can be because the music on this is very sparse with only certain key moments running with underscore (or at least that’s what it felt like to me). Of course, in contrast to the absence of the score in certain parts of the movie, the emotion for the moments where music is brought into play means that it heightens the mood required for the viewing and decoding of the sounds and images in these sections, where the most important events may have seemed a little less potent without it. This film is a good example of how spotting and scoring can make or break a project, I reckon.

So there you have it. The Queen Of Fear is an absolutely stunning, emotionally charged good time at the movies and I have no idea, like a lot of these things that get screened at these kinds of festivals, whether this will be getting any future kind of English friendly release either here in the UK or in the US. I know if it gets a Blu Ray release it’s one I’d definitely pick up to watch again and I can only hope various key distributors are looking at something like this for the near future. A true gem of a movie and a good start for me to this year’s London Film Festival.

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