Festival Files- Fantastic Fest 2022: ‘Missing’, ‘Amazing Elisa’, “Unidentified Objects”

If a theme emerged in the opening night of Austin’s 2022 Fantastic Fest, it’s the manner in which young adults deal with grief and the general ugliness of the world. Whether it’s a cramped Japanese city on the verge of fear from a roaming serial killer or a perfectly manicured homes in Spain where an intruder has the tables sexually turned on him, both films are unrelenting in their respective visions.

My preferred one of the two, Shinzo Katayama’s Missing feels right at home in a festival set to honor Park Chan Wook later in the weekend. Full of assured shifts in tone and a shuffled narrative that only deepens its bleak, compromised narrative, Missing begins as a mystery and then morphs into something deeper. Still recovering from the loss of one parent, teen Kaede (Aoi Ito) refuses to lose another when her father (Jiro Sato) goes missing. Is it coincidence that the night before he claimed to have seen the wanted serial killer No Name (Hiroya Shimizu) on the train line he works for?

From that shadowy beginning, Missing shuffles back and forth in time, revealing the small degrees of separation between Kaede’s father and the serial killer preying on people who want to experience something, shall we say, unique in their lives.

Working as an assistant director to Bong Joon Ho over the past few years, Katayama’s Missing certainly borrows some of his visual and textual motifs as it swims in some of the same morally decrepit worlds as Memories of Murder (2003) and Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000). But as I paint the film as something dark beyond dark (and most of it is), it’s also a film that begins and ends on the innocence of Kaede and her emergence into an adult world she doesn’t understand, but is forced to reckon with. How she does this is perfectly redemptive and gives us hope that maybe she’ll be the one to break the cycle of depression that seems to haunt most of this assured feature.

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Also taking as one of its protagonists a young girl struggling with the death of a parent, Sadrac Gonzales-Perellon’s Amazing Elisa wanders toward redemption in a much different way. Filmed and edited in an extremely mannered style- I think the camera only moves in a few shots and reserves the very slow zoom for most others- the film opens on young Elisa (Jana San Antonio) calmly goading on a friend to stab her. It’s not a ruse, but something she genuinely believes will not harm her because she’s inherited super powers. It’s an idea her depressed father (Ivan Massague) attempts to dispel only slightly, eventually backing down every time Elisa hurts herself in demonstration.

From there, we meet artist Hector (Asier Exteandia) and his paraplegic wife Ursula (Silvia Abascal) going through the motions of life in a seemingly loveless marriage….. so loveless that Ursula chooses to make a home invader have sex with her in addition to his intended robbery.

Obviously, there’s a touch of provocation at work here. And how these two disparate environments will eventually connect is enhanced by the story of a gallery owner (Claudia Bouza) telling Ursula the tale of a comic book character and her adventures with a feisty rottweiler. It’s not your usual world-saving, but simply her actions to ward off the advances of a MeToo world who refuse to let someone read alone in a diner. The most entertaining aspects of the film, these sequences are a heady metaphor for the swirl of confusion around young Elisa.

Elisa’s imaginary abilities and the anomie of Ursula and Hector do collide in startling ways and Amazing Elisa has some interesting things to say about the procession of grief, but its mannered, distant style (akin to that of Michael Haneke or especially Yorgos Lanthimos) serves its purpose but felt extremely monotonous to me. Like the heroine shown, the best aspect of Amazing Elisa is the fiction we tell ourselves in order to survive the nonfiction. Unfortunately, everything else in the film is so manufactured to provoke, there’s not much room left to survive.


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Juan Felipe Zuleta’s Unidentified Objects is a title with dual meanings. Most obviously it alludes to the extraterrestrial beings Winona (Sarah Hay) hopes to meet after she wrangles her neighbor Peter (Matthew August Jeffers) into a road trip. Secondly, it’s a sly comment on the dislocation of people such as herself and Peter. As a sex worker and a little person, Winona and Peter are continually marginalized by society. It’s not hard to understand why Winona wants to escape this planet in the first place. With Peter, it takes a little more coercion.

Marked by terrific performances from both, Unidentified Objects is a low-fi road trip movie full of wondrous diversions. From a stoned out border guide to a couple of cosplayers who help Peter and Winona with car trouble, one never quite knows where the thing is headed. But underneath the road trip guise, Unidentified Objects is a heartfelt examination of the emotional displacement felt by so many. Hay and Jeffers embody their characters with humanity and grace. It’s ultimate point- whether one believes in the heavenly transcendence Winona seeks or not- is the shame that forces some to even look out of this world in the first place.

Stay tuned for continuing coverage from the 2022 edition of Fantastic Fest

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