SXSW 2017: Tormentero
Tormentero is a fascinating, but often frustrating film to watch. Directed by Mexican filmmaker Ruben Imaz (Turtle Family, Stormmaker), the film offers some fantasy, some strong character work, and an opaque sense of loss. Tormentero is difficult to describe. It has a story, but the film is more interested in crafting arresting, striking images. Captured by cinematographer Gerardo Barroso, Tormentero makes beautiful use of its fishing village setting. The locations, the haunting score, and the measured performances make for a solid viewing experience even if the film leaves one puzzled and confused.
Romero (Jose Carlos Ruiz) tries to reclaim a life that he never had. He once discovered an oil field on the water, and so now the other fishermen resent him. He is haunted by ghosts of people he doesn’t have. The film suggests that Romero might be towards the end of his life, and reflecting back on his life and choices. Imaz stages the film almost like a dream—it’s not exactly fantasy but not quite reality either. Imaz’s direction is surreal and precise, delivering a unique take on a somewhat familiar story.
The performances in the film are sharply observed; Imaz keeps his actors fixated on the screen and captures small character beats and movements. The film does feature a bizarre ending, with a rape scene that seems almost tossed off. It’s upsetting, but I’m not quite what Imaz was going for there. But I keep coming back to the cinematography. The color of the water, the placement of the actors, the exact angles used in each scenes—these are the things that are most affecting and memorable in the film. Tormentero can be a bit vague and distant, but Imaz and Barroso’s visual design keep you hooked.