Tuesday 6 October 2015

The Incident (El Incidente)

The Incidental Tourist

The Incident (El Incidente)
2014 Mexico
Directed by Isaac Ezban
Seen at the 2015 Raindance Film Festival - 
first UK performance

You know, I rarely see the Raindance Film Festival advertised with the same amount of corporate enthusiasm that the London Film Festival operates under but, every year, it takes place a week or two before the LFF and, every year, I try and see one or two movies premiering there... time permitting.

This year I saw only one movie for my ‘Raindance Experience’, which was director Isaac Ezban’s first feature film The Incident (El Incidente) but, I think I can say with some certainty, it’ll definitely be placing very highly in my end of year best movies round up. It might even come in as my number one film of the year to be honest with you.... but I really don’t want to rule out the possibility that I may see an even better film at some point over the next three months so... we’ll see how that goes.

As usual with festivals such as Raindance and the London Film Festival, I made my choices of which films to go see based on a film fulfilling at least one of the following three criteria... 1. An intriguing premise, 2. Loads of female nudity and 3. Less chance of a future UK cinema release or, if there is going to be one, certainly not for some months. Well, there are no large passages of female nudity in this movie but in terms of the first and third of the criteria... well it certainly fulfils those in abundance.

The initial set up is quite stealthily amazing and, after a brief prologue set around a 'just married' couple arriving at their honeymoon hotel, we start off following the story of two brothers and a policeman who turns up at their door and takes them prisoner for an unspecified crime. The three of them are in a multi-story building and, when the two brothers make a run for it down the long, series of staircases typical of these kinds of high rise flats, the cop wounds one of the fleeing brothers in the leg. As the three are arguing and trying to violently negotiate the situation on the staircase, they hear a weird kind of explosion and... The Incident properly begins. The brothers and the cop suddenly find themselves caught in a recursive occlusion. That is to say, the nine floors of the building keep cycling around to the same floors. When one of the party runs either up or down, they soon catch up the others again from the opposite direction. When a bunch of keys is dropped down the middle of the stairwell... it soon drops down again from above. They are completely trapped on an infinite staircase with a snack machine that constantly and magically replenishes itself each day and, when one of the brothers dies from the lack of medical attention for the bullet wound, we leave the action for a bit with a brilliant piece of camera work which I’ll come back to in a little while.

We are then shown another lengthy set up with a family - mother, boyfriend, boy and girl - driving on a country road. When the girl suffers from an asthma attack and her medical inhaler is accidentally broken, she needs urgent attention fast but... then there’s that weird exploding sound again and... boom: the family are also ensnared in the same way as the first set of characters... on the same road no matter which direction they travel in and with a magically replenishing gas station that has no medical supplies to save the girls life. The girl soon dies and we cut back to the other characters...

It’s 35 years later and we see the aged versions of the characters still on the stairwell, living a slightly crazy life full of near madness, strange religious worship and... well it all gets very surreal. When we next see the family on the country road, a similar 35 years has passed in which they are the only souls around... eking out a strange form of survival, the grown up boy living separately from his parental guardians. And the film goes on from there, running each ‘story’ in parallel until it... well it does reach a conclusion and that conclusion is... equally surreal but certainly a very satisfying end game to this set up. However, I really don’t want to spoil that for you here.

The cast are all excellent, as you would expect from a small scale project shot in just four weeks (although I believe it was quite a gruelling shoot). That is to say, they’re all really great at delivering their charcter's conviction convincingly with the way they interact with each other and their repetitive environment. It really grounds the film and helps the audience suspend any disbelief of the simple beauty of the premise. The writing is a gift to them too and, luckily for the audience on this screening, the writer/director Ezban was on hand to discuss the film and answer questions about it.

Something  he said was a huge influence on him was the TV shows of the late 1950s and early 1960s such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and, you can certainly see that in the final product although one big difference, to my mind, is that this film doesn’t have a twist ending to it like a lot of those old 1950s science fiction short stories had (obviously an influence on both of these shows). Instead, it has its own organic ending which is a progression of the central narrative hook, rather than a glib answer to it. Certainly, Isaac Ezban does tend to wear his influences on his sleeve with this movie, in that Philip K. Dick’s novel Time Out Of Joint features prominently in the visual narrative of the movie. However, the way the fantasy content is delivered is much more rooted in surrealism, it seemed to me, and one can almost imagine the influence of a director like Luis Buñuel on Ezban’s work and, certainly to my mind, the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky seem particularly pertinent to the style and attitudes displayed in The Incident. 

In pursuit of the surrealist connection, I thought I’d noticed another book in the hands of one of the characters on screen for, literally two seconds and, when the film was over and the' Q and A' started up, I asked the director to confirm what I thought I’d seen and the book in question was, indeed, André Breton’s surrealist book Nadja. However, the placing of the book turns out to be more serendipitous than outright intent in its inclusion here. The director explained that the leading actress Nailea Norvind brought it along to the shoot to show him and, since it seemed to fit in with the atmosphere of the film, he included it in the shoot. Which is interesting but I’m certainly not ruling out the long, shadowy hand of surrealism informing the style of the narrative structure and, even though the director names quite a lot of science fiction influences (Lost, Inception etc) I’m sure he would also be the first to admit he has a surrealist bent.

He certainly knows how to create tension, that’s for sure. There’s a fair amount of camera movement in this film, not least because with something that is a linear continuation looping back on itself, you have to constantly explore the limits of these paradoxical parameters and the film is truly inventive with the way things are cut together. One very intense scene at the end of the first staircase section, for example, is just amazing. The surviving brother takes possession of the policeman’s gun and is threatening to end his brother’s killer’s life with a harsh gunshot that the viewer really doesn’t want to see this up close and “in your face”. However, just as you feel the life ending shot is about to ring out in a jarring, visual blood-splosion, the camera viewpoint takes off and starts quickly climbing the stairs. However, rather than bring relief, this stair climb actually increases the tension because the director has already conditioned you to know that you will catch up with the two again as you loop back round and are rushing up to meet them again... probably just as the gun goes off. Then the director does something even more clever and transitions out of the stairwell climb completely before we catch up with the conclusion of that scene, using it as a point to start off the next parallel story. When we rejoin the two on the staircase, 35 years will have passed in terms of chronology within the fiction.

And there’s also a lot of really great stuff in this film besides the directing and camerawork. The production design, some of it CGI (although there’s no way I would’ve known that without the director revealing it in the Q and A) is absolutely fantastic and the prominent mix of Edy Lan’s Schumann inspired score is just gobsmacking. That score really helps drive the movie along. The story is such that you never really care in the end, just what or why the incident is happening, although there are some ground rules laid out by one (or is it two) of the dying characters and it all starts tying into the opening honeymoon at some point... but the journey to get there and the way in which things are alluded to does make some kind of sense, or at least helps balance a kind of internal logic to the surrealistic mechanics of the movie. I didn’t feel in any way cheated by the end of the film... just inspired.

I’m also watching out for the director’s next movie, The Similars, which just previewed at a festival in the US. In it there’s supposed to be a little scene, possibly after the end credits, which is a reference to this movie and shows just what ‘caused’ the starnge explosion in The Incident in the first place... and I’m really looking forward to trying to catch up with this at some point, maybe in next year’s Raindance festival if the director returns there.

I’d also like to own a copy of this movie to watch again but I was briefly talking to the producer after the screening and he revealed that, as yet, they have no British distribution company to release this movie over here... although he did say it should be getting a high definition release in the US at some point. That’s okay, I’m all multi-regioned up so any subtitled release would be fine for me but I really think this movie needs to be seen in this country because, frankly, I think this writer/director’s vision is really interesting and, certainly, somewhat addictive. It deserves a wider release and I wish some company like Eureka Masters Of Cinema or Arrow Films would pick up the distributions rights over here... it’s a truly superb piece of cinematic art, quite frankly.

If you get an opportunity to see The Incident at some point, especially on a big screen, make sure you grasp it and manage to see it. A director with a definitively distinct voice whose work needs to be celebrated and made accessible to a larger audience. In the meantime, there’s seems to be a subtitled trailer for the movie on you tube right here if you want to check it out.

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