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According to one villain in a ‘Star Trek’ movie ‘Time is a fire in which we all burn’. Other has described it as a raging river that flows in only one direction. It is human nature to see the order an rules in our environment and conceive stories were it is possible to bend or even break them. A considerable portion of science fiction is based on ignoring the immutable laws of nature. We are bound to the earth by gravity and dream of flying. Out sight is dependent on light so we come up with tales where people can see through wall. One of the most popular laws of nature we seek to break is time. Time travel is a popular and enduring concept that can provide the basis of many an imaginative story. One such film is ‘Timecrimes’ by Spanish film maker Nacho Vigalondo. All authors that take on a time travel story have to deal with on inevitable plot point; paradox. The age old way of explaining this if you go back in time and kill your grandfather how will you be born to go back in time in the first place? Some writers just ignore the complications with a little line or two of dialogue explaining the past is already written and can not be changed. Some embrace the paradox and have fun with it. A long time ago one of the masters of Science fiction; Ray Bradbury, took things to the extreme in ‘Sound of Thunder’ where a man stepping on a butterfly completely changes the future. In this film Vigalondo takes playfulness to a strange and often dark place and has a lot of fun with the concept of time travel. I have not seen a time travel movie so unusual and bizarre and still work extremely well since ’12 Monkeys’. This is something for the4 person that loves film. You have to be prepared to watch an experimental independent film and make an effort to understand what the film maker is presenting. In this case it is well worth doing and you will discover a well constructed and intriguing movie.

You have to give a lot of credit to a film maker you is willing to put it all on the line to see his vision through. In the case of this film Vigalondo had a shoestring budget of about $2.6 million to work with. This would hardly cover incidentals in a big flick and for a time travel based movie this is unheard of. This is what Indy films are all about; making due, cutting corners and just getting the best possible film made. It is how the art of cinema advances and we should be extremely grateful for a cast and crew like this one. This is more than an honest effort it is a work of artistic vision and helps to set the bar of achievement higher for the low budget movies that will follow. This is Vigalondo’s first time as a writer and director of a feature length movie but you would never know it by the way the finished product works. First of all the concept is an imaginative on a very old theme. Hector (Karra Elejalde) is an average middle aged man, a bit pudgy, balding and prone to enjoying naps. He also relishes sitting in his backyard and peering through his binoculars. One day starts out as so many before but things take a sudden turn off the beaten path. Hector sees a young woman (Bárbara Goenaga), in the distance taking off her clothing. He naturally goes to investigate and finds her unconscious and a man with pink bandages wrapped around his face stabs him with a pair of scissors and chases Hector. He runs to a nearby house where he hides in a strange device. When he emerges Hector discovers that it is one hour earlier. This story is a tapestry of human instincts and predilections. Hector is lamentable right from the start. The first time we see him he is driving back from doing some shopping. The rear hatch of his car had opened and the groceries are trailing behind him. The writer knows how to build a connection between the hapless Hector and the audience immediately. With a fantasy like this the plot work best if we can put ourselves in Hector’s place and understand him.

Vigalondo builds the story in such a way that watching it is like peeling an onion. Just when you think you know what is going on there is another level to delve into. The past, present and future all a jumbled together and the enjoyment is keeping track of what point in the time line you are currently viewing. The main story begins with a weird phone call that Hector picks up; no one is on the other end. Sicne we are just started this Möbius strip of a story line. This is like the game concentration where you have to remember on scene and how it matches up with another later on. You may want to watch this film several times just to get all that is going on just beneath the surface of the story. There are little clues placed just in frame that pop up through the film. Some may explain something that just happened, at least from the audience’s point of view, while others are just setting the stage for what we haven’t seen yet. The movie plays with perception. Things are unfolding in our linear time but the hapless Hector is watching different versions of himself. For example in the beginning of the story we see Hector kissing his wife, Clara (Candela Fernández). It is a tender moment demonstrating a comfortable love between these two people. Later Hector watches from a different vantage point but now he is filled with jealousy seeing a man kiss his wife even if that man is an earlier form of himself.

Just when you think you have the story figured out Vigalondo provides an quirky twist in the final act that turns everything upside down. It is a great turn in the writing that is directed is such a fashion that you will be amazed by it. What is most incredible about this movie is it was done cheap and fast but you would never know it. The time machine is a vat of goop and the special effects are little more than a few flashing lights. A higher degree of technology would have ruined the humanistic charm of the film. The colors are muted here giving an almost washed out feel to the film. It also adds to an intimacy to the movie that draws the audience in and holds them. Just remember as you watch this movie that every little detail is there for a reason and the enjoyment is putting the puzzle together.

Posted 03/16/09

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