Nacho Vigalondo's feature debut shows that good cinematic time travelers can be done on a shoestring with the right script.

The latest in a line of effective, low-budget genre items out of Spain, Nacho Vigalondo’s feature debut shows that good cinematic time travelers can be done on a shoestring with the right script. “Timecrimes” welds a B-movie plotline to precision-engineered writing and a down-to-earth style; add an engagingly sloppy, nonplussed hero, who remains unfazed by the time-bending scrape in which he finds himself, and the result is memorably offbeat. Film has already garnered some positive fest play and offshore sales, with an English-language remake reportedly in the works.

Hector (Karra Elejalde) is staying in a country house in northern Spain with his companion, Clara (Candela Fernandez). As he drives toward the house, something falls out of the trunk; Hector’s subdued reaction neatly foreshadows his resignation to the extraordinary events that will later unfold.

Training his binoculars on movement in a forest clearing opposite the house, he sees a girl (Barbara Goenaga) removing her clothes. Hector decides to investigate further, but when he reaches the girl, she’s not only naked but unconscious. As he stands over her, he’s stabbed in the arm with a pair of scissors by an attacker with a long coat and a bandaged head.

Hector flees; after several minutes of real-time tension, he ends up in a research lab, where he meets an unnamed scientist (helmer Vigalondo), who tells him he can hide from his attacker in a large, podlike contraption. When Hector emerges from it, he looks back across the valley he came from and sees himself peering through his binoculars. “You can’t go back home,” the scientist coolly informs him. “You’re there already.”

From here on, it’s all very clever, with events and sounds witnessed a second time, and from a different point of view. To the script’s (and thesp Elejalde’s) credit, the nonsense never feels like nonsense. Pacing is helter-skelter, successfully enveloping the viewer in its deranged logic, while the time-shuttling reps the kind of intellectual jigsaw puzzle designed to bring the paying public back through the turnstiles a second time in search of missing pieces.

Final reels provide one twist too many, but the lengthy, revelatory, climactic tracking shot contains pic’s one visually flamboyant moment, which makes it all worthwhile.

Elejalde is terrific as a crumpled figure for whom facing a doppelganger is just one more problem to be overcome in life. With grim determination, he decides to sort it out, remaining one step ahead of the audience in the process. Weakest link is Vigalondo himself, who plays the fresh-faced scientist like a little boy let loose with a big boy’s toy. Helmer’s perf is just flat; some chemistry between Vigalondo and Elejalde would have given pic another layer.

Dialogue becomes increasingly scarce, to an extent that pic could work as a silent. Brief moments of black humor also leaven the drama.

Chucky Namanera’s score amplifies the tension with electronic rumbles and quietly wailing violins. Jose Luis Romeu’s editing is extraordinary, and it’s largely due to his work that pic never becomes merely risible.

Film has already garnered some positive fest play and offshore sales, and has an English-language remake deal with United Artists.

Timecrimes

Spain

Production

A KV Entertainment, ZIP, Fine, Arsenico production, with participation of ETB, TVC. (International sales: Magnolia Pictures, New York.) Produced by Esteban Ibarretxe, Javier Ibarretxe, Eduardo Carneros, Santi Camunas, Jorge Gomez, Jordi Rediu, Norbert Llaras. Directed, written by Nacho Vigalondo.

Crew

Camera (color), Flavio Labiano; editor, Jose Luis Romeu; music, Chucky Namanera; art director, Jose Luis Arrizabalaga, Arturo Garcia "Biaffra"; sound (Dolby Digital), Roberto Fernandez, Asier Gonzalez. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, Dec. 13, 2007. (In Sundance Film Festival -- Park City at Midnight; also in Sitges, Austin Fantastic film festivals.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Karra Elejalde, Barbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo, Candela Fernandez.

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