A screenplay, broken down to its bare bones, is just a bunch of pages with words working together to tell a story. One problem new writers face is placing too much emphasis on their sacred written words, while forgetting that film is a visual medium balancing both pictures and sound. When you have a story that centers on two people in a single location, you’d expect a lot of talking to take place. Writer/director Robert T. Herrera strikes that right balance between what you see and what you hear in his film Palacios.
Holly (Libby Bibb) is a recent widow about to spend another dark night alone with her Boston terrier, Hulk. Eugene (Olajuwon Davis) is an inner-city teen, who escapes the city streets and finds refuge on Holly’s apartment rooftop. The following morning Holly takes Hulk to the roof for a pee-break and discovers Eugene asleep. Finding compassion, Holly invites Eugene inside for an impromptu breakfast.
Not wanting to pry too far into Eugene’s affairs (i.e., why he’s on the roof), Holly asks Eugene to climb above the ceiling to inspect her faulty air-conditioning in exchange for the breakfast and hideout from the night before. Thus, the start of a fascinating friendship between the two. In the second act, their conversation turns personal as Holly reveals the details of her husband’s death and Eugene talks about his pregnant girlfriend and his hesitance about going to college in Chicago. As nightfall approaches, Holly and Eugene agree to watch the night’s Fourth of July fireworks together from Holly’s rooftop overlooking the city.
“…Holly and Eugene agree to watch the night’s Fourth of July fireworks together from Holly’s rooftop overlooking the city.”
Here are a few cool things about Palacios. The friendship between Holly and Eugene is a slow build. Knowing nothing about either character at the start, I was a little suspicious if this friendship would become politically or racially charged. It doesn’t. The friendship is fascinating because of just how different the two are and how these two contrasting characters find a way to bond.
The friendship is built on casual conversations with a twinge of emotion. There’s not a lot of dialogue between Holly and Eugene. When Holly talks about the death of her husband, she lays out just the facts, and you feel her loss in the way she speaks. She never gets profound about life and death. Instead, she opens a door for your empathy. Eugene is the same when he drops the fact that he’s about to be a teen father and in the dramatic turn that takes place in the third act. You learn more about the character by how they make you feel, rather than what they say. Herrera follows the adage, “show, don’t tell.”
Bibb and Davis also portray the leads as ordinary people. Their dialogue is awkwardly conversational, as if they were two strangers meeting for the first time. It rarely feels scripted, and their performances don’t come off like trained movie actors in search of an Oscar winning moment. A big shout out to Ingebar as Hulk, the most adorable dog ever..
“…filmed in black and white to enhance the drama and writer/director Herrera employs a compelling visual style.”
Palacios is also filmed in black and white to enhance the drama and writer/director Herrera employs a compelling visual style. Every shot and camera angle are meticulously composed and beautiful at times. He cuts often and plays with camera focus throughout. Jump cuts to a main character start blurred and quickly pulled into focus during conversations. Also, aiding the black-and-white visual style is Herrera’s use of textures from wood flooring and walls in the apartment, the surface of the rooftop, to Holly’s striped dress. Filming in black and white takes effort, and Herrera got it right.
Palacios is a sweet film that says a lot with very little. This low budget film requires you to just sit back and feel. Soak in the story like a warm bath. You’re not going to get polished performances ending in a philosophical treatise on the human condition. Why? Because people don’t talk that way in real life. You’re going to see two very different people, like you and me, find a way to connect with one another in the end. Palacios is precisely the reason we see independent films.
Palacios (2018) Written and directed by Robert T. Herrera. Starring Libby Bibb, Olajuwon Davis.
7.5 out of 10 stars