LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! “There are no meanings,” a character proclaims in Valentina De Amicis and Riccardo Spinotti’s abstract psycho-drama Where Are You. “Words are just words.” Some will certainly view this film as just that: all sound and fury signifying nothing, or, to be fair, purporting things that have already been conveyed cinematically numerous times before. There’s no denying, however, its haunting vibes and stunning imagery. The filmmakers attempt to deconstruct the plight of a tortured, arrogant, beautiful Artiste, and in doing so, the production becomes somewhat of a tortured, arrogant, beautiful experience.
Nicolas (Irakli Kvirikadze) is a successful Italian photographer residing in Los Angeles. His subjects tend to be attractive young women, whom he frequently beds. But then there’s the alluring, mysterious muse Matilda (Camille Crowe), “an artist who writes poems,” who infiltrates his world. But the death of a close friend sends the already-pompous Nicolas into a hubristic frenzy. So Matilda disappears, leaving him a note to forget her.
From this point on, an impressionistic, fragmented narrative that somehow holds all the disparate threads together slides into complete dream logic. Nicolas receives clues, like a note scribbled in lipstick on a mirror or a meeting with an enigmatic stranger, Thomas (Anthony Hopkins), who serves him with some truth: “You say you’re interested in people, but you’re cut off from yourself.” Images and apparitions of other women (some dead) torment the photographer, ultimately leading him to Joshua Tree National Park, where he may or may not obtain closure.
“…receives clues, like a note scribbled in lipstick on a mirror or a meeting with an enigmatic stranger…”
Imagine Nicolas Winding Refn and Terrence Malick birthing a cinematic offspring, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what to expect with Where Are You. The synthwave score, neon colors, sparse and surreal tone are all pure Refn, while the elegiac, sweeping camerawork and editing-as-poetry certainly bring to mind Malick. From a technical perspective, the film’s a marvel. Stalwart cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s stunning imagery buoys the narrative, infusing it with vivaciousness, sophistication, and purpose. As a coherent story, however, it lags, rushing during the second half, undermining the first’s built-up artistry and sustained mood.
The filmmakers embrace the surreal nature of the story with constant intercutting between sequences and timelines, jarring edits, mismatched dialogue mixing, and so forth. Those stylistic flourishes work (for the most part). Still, when Where Are You attempts to reconcile its inner and outer visions by sending its protagonist into a frankly clichéd and underdeveloped journey into the heart of darkness, it all starts to grate fast. What was sensual and deeply erotic becomes perfunctory. Abstract, intriguing notions like “are we defined by what we do?” morph into bland ruminations on control and snobbery.
Kvirikadze does a fine job as the lead, although he’s somewhat impenetrable (purposefully so). Crowe is pure magic: alluring and enigmatic, she convinces as a goddess-like muse that could drive someone as conceited as Nicolas to extreme measures. Hopkins appears for five minutes, sprinkles some gravitas onto the narrative, and disappears. Who Thomas is and what purpose he serves is up to interpretation.
Sensual, erotic, pretentious, and uneven, Where Are You touches upon something visceral but never quite functions as a searing indictment, a surreal treatise, or a penetrating character study. Best to accept the film for what it is: a tortured Artiste, splashing vibrant paint on a canvas, hoping that using tears instead of water will add meaning to the end result.
Where Are You screened at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival.
"…haunting vibes and stunning imagery."