From the Archives: Bullet in the Head (2008)

2 Mar

In FIPRESCI award-winning director Jaime Rosales’s own words, his latest film is “really difficult for the audience.” Citing inspiration from the silent era of cinema while making a metaphorical statement on the “noise, not words” of Spanish politics, Rosales pushes the boundaries of filmmaking with a study in audience patience by essentially delivering a silent film – just two words are uttered in the 84-minute running time – in which, as Rosales readily admits, “nothing happens.”

Rosales’s picture – shot entirely in long lens – follows the exploits of a fairly nondescript middle-aged man (Ion Arretxe) as he meets a friend in a coffee bar, buys mints from a newsstand, and seduces a woman at a party. By utilizing long lens, the film takes on a voyeuristic feel and the menial nature of the scenes suggests the subject is under some sort of surveillance. Long, beautifully framed shots, some several minutes long, accompanied by nothing but ambient noise of traffic and birdsong, essentially invite the audience members to add their own context to these scenes, and despite the monotony, actually proves to be an incredibly immersive device.

When the man meets with what appears to be two policemen, Rosales teases the audience into questioning his subjects motivations: Is he an informant or even a policeman himself? In fact, despite the lack of action and the incredibly slow pace of the film, it is an intriguing watch, albeit a difficult one.

When the action finally does kick in, as our subject crosses the border into France accompanied by a couple of associates, Rosales abandons his static camera work in favor of long tracking shots, presumably in an attempt to ramp up the action as the story meanders its way to its bloody conclusion, as one final tense scene in a motorway service station leads to a chance encounter with violent consequences.

Ultimately, however, this sudden shift from non-action to casual violence is intended to emphasize the lackadaisical nature of the crime, yet it just feels like a deliberate affectation that is as clunky as the pay off is disappointing. While Rosales should be applauded for experimenting with form, “Bullet in the Head” essentially feels very much like a rushed job and a missed opportunity to explore the truly captivating political and social issues of fervent nationalism and terrorism that lie behind the film. Inspired by a newspaper story, Rosales conceived, shot and produced “Bullet in the Head” within five months. While his intentions are admirable and the story deserving of some form of treatment, this “Bullet” just seems a little wide of the mark.

(originally featured at www.criticsnotebook.com on 10/11/08)

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