FILM REVIEW: LA CARA OCULTA (2011) – THE HIDDEN FACE

hidden-face-posterThe Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta) is a supremely dark movie, literally and figuratively. The subject is dark and most of the movie takes place in dim light or actual darkness.

At first glance, I thought it was going to be a whodunnit and I was good with that. But early on, the plot became obvious, so what remained was a race against time. The overall story is standard thriller cum police drama “missing person” stuff.  As the movie opens, we watch a “dear john” video from a young woman leaving her boyfriend with minimal explanation (but a lot of subtext). Her boyfriend (who we will soon learn is a renowned orchestral conductor) watches the video. Apparently baffled, miserable, in despair. It’s a flashback, because the film immediately moves forward to “now” as he meets someone new and begins a relationship. The story flashes back again. Despite how it sounds, the flashing back and forth is not confusing,  just tricky to write about.

Into precisely what genre The Hidden Face fits is murky.

It’s creepy, but not a horror movie. It’s a mystery, but so briefly no detective work is required. I was surprised at how soon in the film lays the whole story out. It eliminated any element of surprise or mystery, leaving creepiness without suspense. Does that make it sort-of horror? A ghost story without a ghost? Secrets don’t stay secrets long. The film put everything out there, up front.

The film would benefit from a tighter edit. Too many beauty shots  of the stars walking on the beach, ambling along by the river, looking sad, staring into mirrors (many mirrors, lots of staring), suffering, pondering, despairing. You could trim a lot of it without compromising the story. Fewer shots of Fab walking, thinking, pondering, Adri conducting, flirting, suffering, yada yada. That much B-roll is directorial self-indulgence and it gets old quickly.

After the who-done-what is revealed, the movie becomes a race against the clock. The only remaining question is who will win the race. That’s when I started to lose interest. The situation was indeed creepy, even horrible. But very little was happening and although nothing much is happening, it takes a rather long time to not happen. Back to the editing room!

Have I seen anything like this before? Yes.

Even before they show you everything, there are plenty of tells for anyone familiar with mystery or horror stories. Moreover, the plot is classic and everyone will recognize it. Think fairy tale crossed with Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the movie’s writers assume the situation, the premise itself, will generate sufficient tension without action. No need for story. It doesn’t work for me.  I need a story. So this movie wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m a coffee drinker. If you like tea, you might love it.

hidden-face-stillThe cinematography is moody and broody. I appreciate the artistry. The “sexy scenes” were just that. Nothing pornographic about them. Had the overall tone of the film not been so edgy, it might have been romantic, even titillating. The sense of “something wrong” overshadows all else and the foreboding short-circuits potential erotica.

My aging eyes I would have preferred more light (as in wattage). The poor quality print may have contributed to the problem because it was difficult to focus on the picture, but most of the film takes place at night or in shadow so it wasn’t brightly lit to start with. After repeated copying of the original print, there was considerable squinting involved for me. Not a movie for the weak of vision.

Did I enjoy it? I liked the beginning a lot. I like the middle, mostly. By the end, I was eager for it to be over. Would I recommend it? It depends on who’s asking. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get into it or wrap my head around it. If the tale had unfolded in a normal timeline rather than flashing back and forth, that might have helped. Maybe. I wish they had saved some surprises for the second half.

The situation was eerie, but for a movie to work for me, I need more. I need a story. Characters to whom I can in some way relate. Interesting dialogue. In this case any dialogue would have helped. Maybe I’m just not artistic enough to appreciate the nuances, but from where I sit, the problem was not too much nuance. It was too little.

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