Reviews Short Narrative

Anagnorisis (2018) – 3.5 stars

Director: Arturo Dueñas Herrero

Writer: Laurentino J. Dueñas Herrero

Cast: Julio Lázaro, Carlos Pindeo, Olga Mansilla

Running time: 15mins

Continuing from my review of Second Chances last week, I would like to add further nuts-and-bolts advice to filmmakers, which often gets obscured by the ‘bigger picture.’ In this case, it relates to the use of synthetic musical instruments.

Obviously, synth compositions in their own right can be majestic – creating intricate soundscapes of ominous humming and dizzy whirring – helping envelop us in the world of the film with their electronic lullabies. But when it comes to using synthetic instruments to stand in for an actual orchestra, the opposite often happens, as we are dragged into a musical uncanny valley. We fixate on something which is trying to sound like a strings-section, but isn’t – and this distraction has a nasty habit of cheapening the rest of the world our storytellers have invited us into.

In the case of Anagnorisis, as undeniably pretty as Juan Carlos Martín’s compositions are, the strange, dead notes that honk out of the ‘violins’ playing them have plainly come from a keyboard. Some will argue that “not everyone can afford real instruments for a score,” but the supposedly ‘levelling’ nature of using synthetic alternatives is non-existent. Unless you have the money and power of Hans Zimmer, your soundtrack will never live up to the real McCoy – so it is probably better not to have a score at all in that case.

At any rate, were the music confined to bookending the film, playing over its blackened opening and closing credits, this might have been forgivable. But director Arturo Dueñas Herrero is sadly far heavier handed than that – liberally splashing the score over moments of emotional impact.

Considering the incredible depth of performances put out by the main cast, this is a crying shame. Music which should be there to compliment and emphasise their interactions ultimately cheapens them – the filmic equivalent of scrawling a more noticeable smile on the Mona Lisa in ballpoint pen, or covering Wagyu beef with tomato ketchup.  

Again, it might seem a little unfair of me to fixate on a minor detail while there is such good work on display here. And believe me, there is a lot of good work to talk about. Laurentino J. Dueñas Herrero’s script is sharply written, and emotionally evocative, as psychological maverick Doctor Herrero (Carlos Pinedo) tries to encourage Don Francisco (Julio Lázaro) to address his past traumas. One of the few ways Don Francisco still communicates is through pencil sketches. As we examine his past life, and the losses he suffered, we gain heart-breaking insight into the significance of the subjects he chooses for these drawings.

It is the kind of relationship which has appeared on screen many times over the years – but there is a good reason for that. As the unconventional Doctor looks to pick his way through his patient’s armour, we can relate to both sides. We have all wanted to help a loved one come to terms with some kind of loss; and we have all been that person desperate to reconcile ourselves with the worst parts of our own past.

At the same time, Pinedo and Lázaro both put out impeccable performances in their respective roles. Pinedo’s performance is imbued with an electricity, born of a fervent need to help people, and a belief that unlike the tired medical status quo that preceded him, he actually can. Meanwhile, Lázaro is a world-weary counter-weight to this – his performance the perfect illustration of a man who has endured a great deal of sadness; but in there somewhere remains a bitter-sweet grain of humanity, bursting to re-engage with his past.

Director of Photography Nicolás de la Rosa meanwhile does well to frame the back-and-forth of zealous Doctor and resistant patient as the ‘centre of the film.’ That relationship is the meat of the story, the thing we should be invested in, and so De la Rosa rightly deploys various manoeuvres to show this; including purposefully breaking the rule of thirds to place Don Francisco at the centre of the screen during key breakthrough moments. Meanwhile, each shot’s gorgeous black-and-white imagery still manages to capture a seemingly endless depth of field.

But, of course, all of this comes with a but. For whatever reason – be it lack of finances, time, or even a purposeful decision – the director has limited the film to 15 minutes. As a result, the script – as solid as it is – does not have enough room to really play with the relationship between doctor and patient. As is often the case in this kind of story, the relationship becomes increasingly two-way, and the treatment also ends up giving the doctor some kind of personal revelation – something which there simply is not room for here.

The pacing of the film is a big problem as a result. There is no allowance for peaks and troughs in the story, no period for reflection on our part, or even for establishing shots in many cases. As a result, some slapdash editing sees us land in unknown venues, privy to decontextualised discussions that will not make sense to anyone who cannot view the film for a second or third time.

The ending of the film is significantly less impactful for this reason. While it will probably still cause more than a few teary eyes among audiences, this is more in spite of the rushed pacing – or indeed, those mawkish faux-strings which strike up to ‘emphasise’ the moment – and more thanks to the excellent groundwork laid by the actors. We are sad to be parting with them, however satisfactorily their story is concluding.

Regrettably, what could be a five-star film has simply not been given enough room to realise its potential here. The actors, the script, the cinematography have so many possibilities – but without patience from the director, they never reach the heights they should. No number of blaring digital ‘violins’ can make up for that – and ultimately, they end up highlighting the very shortcomings they were deployed to paper over.

Anagnorisis still manages to be engaging. It is emotionally engaging, and visually compelling. But it lacks the space to be thoughtful; the space to have impacted viewers in a way that they would themselves feel changed by the relationship they had experienced vicariously. It would undoubtedly be improved if we had more time to spend with our characters – the prize assets of the film – and breathing room to enjoy and think about our connections to them.

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