This witty and intelligent re-working of the much-filmed Faust story is the first bigscreen production of renowned Catalan theater group, La Fura dels Baus, and the newcomers bring a freshness and astringency to their cinema debut. Pic should register well at the box office in Latin territories, with wider niche theatrical prospects only limited by the relatively explicit surgical scenes depicted. Further fest unspoolings are definitely indicated.
The unusual collaboration between three directors, two of them, Alex Olle and Carlos Padrissa, members of the Fura dels Baus troupe, and all of them first-timers as far as the cinema is concerned, has worked remarkably well. Information provided doesn’t indicate who handled which aspect of the production, but top marks are due to all concerned. For the theater company, the film is the third part of a trilogy which began as a stage play (“Faust 3.0”) and continued with the production of the opera, “The Damnation of Faust.”
Setting for this innovative approach to the theme is the very near future. Dr. Faust (Argentine thesp Miguel Angel Sola) is a specialist in terminal cancers and a top surgeon; he has little time for private life, and is blithely unaware of the charms of Julia (Najwa Nimri), his attractive assistant. In the middle of a mid-life crisis, Faust teeters on the edge of suicide as he stands on a station platform awaiting a train; he is distracted by a near accident on the other side of the track, and by Julia, bringing him his briefcase.
On the train he sits opposite a charming old woman who engages him in conversation and then asks him to hold her bag while she goes to the washroom. Mysteriously, the lady vanishes, leaving Faust holding the bag. It’s a charming in-joke which could have been more fully explored.
When the train arrives at its destination, Faust has a chance encounter with a man called Santos Vella (Eduard Fernandez), who claims to be a former patient. Though Faust doesn’t recognize the long-haired stranger, Santos assures him that eight years ago the surgeon had removed his stomach and given him only three months to live; he’s survived, he says, by staying clear of hospitals.
Faust soon discovers it’s not so easy to get rid of Santos. He refuses a lift from this too-friendly ex-patient, but his taxi mysteriously breaks down and Santos is on the spot to take the stranded doctor on to his hotel, a building which is strangely shrouded in plastic.
Professing that he only wants to make the man who saved his life happy, Santos sends a beautiful hooker (Irene Montala) to Faust’s room and she, like Santos, won’t take no for an answer. It’s typical of the witty screenplay by Fernando Leon de Aranoa that the prostitute turns up later in the film in a quite different, and very amusing, context.
As the film progresses, Faust becomes used to the fact that the devilish Santos is able to grant all his wishes, even before he’s actually expressed them.The writer and directors take plenty of liberties with the familiar story, but the result is fresh, fast-paced and consistently amusing. The bleached-out color employed by d.p. Pedro del Rey results in a slightly eerie look, and a soundtrack of discordant noises and musical motifs is highly effective in sustaining that eeriness.
Angel Sola gives a commanding performance as the confused medico, and the three principal women in the film have considerable appeal. But “Faust 5.0” is effortlessly stolen by Catalan actor Fernandez, whose portrayal of the satanic Fernandez is immensely charming, clever and inventive.