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Non-Review Review: Preludio

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Preludio was an interesting second feature for Mexican director Eduardo Lucatero. After his debut with Corazón Marchito in 2007 – a relatively large-scale production for Mexican cinema – it seems strange for the director to move back to a film so minimalist. Preludio is a movie with one scene, two leads, five other actors (and not all of them are speaking roles), one set and one take. It sound like it has the making of an art house disaster, and yet the director manages to make it work.

Smoking buddies...

Preludio is an extremely voyeuristic little film. It’s set during the early period in a party at a small apartment. We spend the entire time on the balcony with El and Ella, two young people who strike up a conversation which lasts for eighty minutes. It’s to Lucatero’s credit that the movie, which is painstakingly choreographed and practice, ends up looking improvised and spontaneous – so much so that it almost feels like we’re watching two real people. In the session after the film, the director conceded that he had drawn from personal experience to create the conversation, and it feels entirely natural.

The somewhat awkward nature of the audience’s relationship to this interaction is raised several times. There’s a creepy (and pretty much mute) guy who spends the entire hour on the balcony with the pair, hovering in and out of shot, as if he himself is almost curious about how this will play itself out. Even moreso, everyone at the party is aware of “the exhibitionist” two amorous individuals who live across the street – to the point where a set of binoculars do the rounds to help the guests spot the activities of this couple.

A couple of strangers...

Lucatero films all this in one long take. Reportedly, the finished version of the film is the second take, with scenes from the first appearing as “bloopers” during the credits. It’s remarkable how well it turned out, given that the movie was made by volunteers working for nothing, and it was constrained by any number of external factors (natural light, the actors’ schedules). Ignoring the technical aspects for a moment, the camera literally hovers over our two leads for well over an hour – but it manages to avoid being so subtle as to become stale, or so active as to become intrusive. It’s quite an accomplishment, and just helps the organic feeling of the little film.

As for the content of the film, Lucatero’s script calls to mind the early work of Kevin Smith – there’s a vulgarity and an elegance which go together surprisingly well. His two leads, Ana Serradilla and Luis Arrieta, give the movie their best, and handle the material well. As the seventy minutes we spend in their company goes on, we get to see the couple grow increasingly friendly and comfortable with one another. The movie is never stuffy or pretentious – it opens, after all, with one of those awkward “cancer” jokes – but it’s never gimmicky or aloof.

Okay, so this shot isn't from the film, but there are like two screenshots of it on-line...

The conversation between the pair ebbs and flows over the runtime, but Lucatero manages to avoid ever seeming boring or redundant. Even moments where one lead retreats inside the house to check on something provide the opportunity to see how the other reacts completely alone. It’s a tremendous compliment to the film, its writer and director, and its stars that these two characters are able to hold our attention so well that we don’t mind spending over an hour watching them in what is essentially a single, unbroken stare.

Preludio is a small, quirky little film. It’s unlikely to find a major release, which is a damn shame, because it manages to make what should be a terribly boring premise seem fresh and engaging. To be honest, as the lights went down, I might have feared the worst – but there was no reason to. I don’t like to give ratings to films, but I figured I would share my “audience award” votes with you, so I feel I owe both you and Eduardo Lucatero an apology. This vote is perhaps the one vote in the entire festival I would change. I vote it as a “3” out of “4”, but – on mature reflection – I honestly think it might deserve the highest grade. It’s just that good. With a smaller budget, cast and scale, it manages to be one of the more engrossing little films I have seen in a long time.

I don’t normally score my reviews, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival does give an “audience award” and asks the audience to rate the film out of four. In the interest of full and frank disclosure, my score is: 3.

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