Review: Much Ado About Nothing (Fernández Almendras, 2016) – Sundance 2016
In 2014 we missed out on the Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize winner To Kill a Man. We weren’t going to make the same mistake this year as director Alejandro Fernández Almendras returned with Much Ado About Nothing in his second Sundance appearance.
Fernández Almendras’s new film is inspired by true events in his home country Chile. For Vicente (Agustín Silva), Much Ado‘s naive protagonist, life at its best is one party after another. In the well-to-do circles in which he runs, everyone seems to be related or to know the same people. During one night of partying, the car Vicente is riding in with four new friends bumps into something in the road. Drunk and in the middle of a makeout session, he learns only later that the car had killed a man.
In the following days, Vicente comes to realize that his fellow passengers want to frame him for the vehicular manslaughter. He pleads his innocence to anyone who will listen, but it seems that his “friends” have family in high places. Will Vicente play their game or stand on his own?
Following the success of To Kill a Man (which I still haven’t seen), Much Ado About Nothing is a disappointment. Beneath its discordant music, the film seems to be posing the question, “Isn’t it crazy what they get away with?” But the answer is no. This type of corruption, in the places where it’s successful, feels fairly mundane. The scandal may have made a big splash in Chilean news, but as it’s presented in Much Ado it’s difficult to feel provoked. Perhaps I’m too cynical; the film itself feels like much ado about nothing.
The hollowness at the picture’s core may simply have resulted from an error in focus. According to the Q&A following the screening (see below), Fernández Almendras made a deliberate choice to keep the film immersed in a tableau of the upper class. With the frivolous children of Chile’s oligarchy front and center of the movie and the working class (including the victim) virtually invisible–minus a few gentle intrusions by servants bringing beverages or tidying messes–there is no one left for the audience to care about. I like the attempt at subtlety, but the effect may be too subtle.
What about our coddled if guileless (anti-)hero, Vicente–aren’t we concerned about him? According to his mother and ex-girlfriend, he’s not a bad kid–just a foolish one. But if not bad, neither is Vicente good. When he’s not sulking or uselessly declaiming his innocence, he’s drinking, f*cking, or texting. If Vicente wasn’t literally driving the car that night, he may as well have been. So why should we care if justice, by the letter of the law, is borne out in this case? The true injustice lies offscreen.
Fernández Almendras knows that. At the Q&A, he was all fired up with class indignation. His film would have benefited from some of that sizzle.