Prepare for a wet eye. Depending on your sensitivity level, this film will either bore you to tears or leave you feeling a bit weepy. A slow, ponderous and extremely quiet film, Malaventura – Spanish for bad luck – follows an unnamed, terminally ill man throughout his last day alive in Mexico City and has no hopeful message at its finale.
Setting out into the midst of the capital, he begins his long day of wandering – buying a bottle of Coke that he tops up with alcohol, sitting on a bench in a public park and meandering through traffic towards some unknown destination. As the photography aims to emphasise the lingering pace of his day and his near-glacial movement on worn-out limbs, a few depressing scenes highlight his loneliness and poverty with just a faint hint of humour – he struggles to avert his eyes from a beautiful young girl on the subway, stops at a taco stand where the proprietor is chopping up the head of a cow and selling every conceivable scrap of the meat at discount rates, and visits a pornographic cinema that he slinks shamefully out of again before the film is half-over. At one point, he appears to pay two men in pocket change for the privilege of sitting for a few minutes in the back of their car as they nibble salted snacks and smoke. After lying down for some time on a barren patch of grass beside an abandoned building, he visits a dive bar where a similarly-aged woman drinking tequila repeatedly recites lines from William Blake’s Proverbs of Hell.
This is perhaps the main downside. Towards the end, a number of seemingly vital scenes are too downplayed and we are left with a hint that the old man’s reasons for his plight have been somehow explained without sufficient clarity. Having left the bar after an awkward and rebuffed romantic pass by the poetry-reader, he sits facing a derelict church with damp eyes and, in an uncomfortable shot that turns out to be a flashback, is seen ascending the stairs of an apartment building or hotel and setting fire to a bed containing a sleeping woman. Finding God absent in his last sitting spot in the oncoming darkness at the end of the day, he collapses to the ground and is seen crawling away past the doors of the church, presumably towards his death.
Malaventura is certainly a striking film, its minimalist approach clearly effective enough to leave an audience shaken rather than asleep. Even so, had it not gone quite so far in this stylistic direction that fuels the scoffing stereotypes of pretentious indie films, it would have struck its intended chord harder and left viewers devastated rather than merely dazed and in need of some fresh air and sunlight. It is good, but unless you're a big fan of filmmaking and willingly involved in both the narrative method and the plight of the broken old man, it’s unlikely to do anything for you.
Malaventura is playing at the Barbican Centre with an exclusive Mexican Panel. In this special event, the East End Film Festival will be joined by directors Sebastian Hofmann, Diego Quemada-Diez (The Golden Dream) and Fernando Eimbcke (Club Sandwich). Catch on the 22nd of June. Buy tickets here.