Review: ‘Doghead’

Santi Amodeo follows his critically acclaimed solo debut "Astronauts" with the similarly revitalizing, winsomely idiosyncratic "Doghead," about a few strange, lost days in the life of a teenager with a nervous condition. Amodeo's strength is his ability to see the mundane through the off-center vision of his protags, and the result is a visually striking, deceptively subtle item that revels in its unconventionality.

Santi Amodeo follows his critically acclaimed solo debut “Astronauts” with the similarly revitalizing, winsomely idiosyncratic “Doghead,” about a few strange, lost days in the life of a teenager with a nervous condition. Amodeo’s strength is his ability to see the mundane through the off-center vision of his protags, and the result is a visually striking, deceptively subtle item that revels in its unconventionality. Presence of popular Hispanic thesp Juan Jose Ballesta (“4th Floor,” “Seven Virgins”) will guarantee decent B.O. at home. “Doghead” looks set to take a walk around fests, while offshore auds looking for something fresh could also bite.

For 19 year-old Samuel (Ballesta), any attempt to lead a normal life goes wrong, intones a narrator. He suffers from a nervous condition similar to epilepsy, which means he sometimes goes absent, losing his power to react to things around him. At a family funeral, Samuel’s cousin Eduardo (Julian Villagran) invites him to visit. Following an evening at a disco, Samuel, in urgent need of sleep, beds down in the back of a van and (in a typically quirky plot move) wakes up the next morning in Madrid, having been driven hundreds of miles.

Looking for the owner of the van, he meets Rosa (Ana Wagener). At her apartment, she makes a pass at the bemused Samuel, and when he refuses her, she throws him out. Looking for a place to stay, Samuel enters the apartment of Consuelo (first-timer Adriana Ugarte), who has left her door open.

Ballesta, impassive even as an enormous (and powerfully symbolic) stained-glass window comes tumbling down before him in the pic’s most spectacular visual effect, does good work in his most muted role yet and generates some delicious moments of gentle humor. The camera-friendly Ugarte makes an impressive debut as the kooky Consuelo, Samuel’s vivacious counterpoint. Also worth mentioning is a lovely turn by 88 year-old Manuel Alexandre as Angelito, an Alzheimer sufferer with whom Samuel unexpectedly identifies while caring for him.

Lensing always searches out the unusual angle in an attempt to sympathize with Samuel’s skewed world view, with crafty use of lighting and music combining to defamiliarize the most normal locations — an underground garage, a supermarket, a latenight club — to powerful effect. Liberally employed music, composed by Amodeo, is crucial to the effect, ranging from what’s best described as fairground-inflected garage pop to atmospheric drones, while the use of static images adds to the visual distinctiveness. As in “Astronauts,” fluid editing makes a major contribution to the generally offbeat air.

Though occasionally humorous, the V.O. supplies largely unnecessary philosophical reflections about selfhood that seem to be making larger claims for the pic than the drama merits.

Doghead

Spain

Production

An Alta Classics release (in Spain) of a Tesela/La Zanfona production in association with Canal Sur, Canal Plus. (International sales: Sogepaq, Madrid). Produced by Jose Antonio Felez. Directed, written by Santo Amodeo.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Alex Catalan; editor, Jose Manuel Garcia Moyano; music, Amodeo; art director, Antonio Estrada; sound (Dolby Digital), Jorge Marin, Daniel de Zayas. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, Oct. 11, 2006. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Juan Jose Ballesta, Adriana Ugarte, Julian Villagran, Ana Wagener, Eugenio Roca, Jorge Roelas, Ana Gracia, Mariano Pena, Manuel Alexandre.
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