Ambition outstrips achievement in the eccentric historical drama “Agnosia,” the latest in a series of Spanish items to weld quasiscientific medical issues to standard genre models in search of something new. Partly scripted by Antonio Trashorras (Guillermo del Toro’s” “The Devil’s Backbone”), this often wonderful-looking film raises expectations, then dashes them. Fault lies largely with its overcooked plot, which fails to fuse costume drama, spy thriller and Gothic romance elements into a coherent whole. Nonetheless, its quality production values and sheer overblown oddity could generate some interest in territories interested in Spanish fare.
Pic is set in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. Joana (Barbara Goenaga), the heiress of a company that makes telescope lenses, was hit in the head as a child by a ricocheting bullet, which gave her the titular perceptual disorder, an inability to recognize familiar surroundings.
In the film’s present, her father, Prats (Sergi Mateu), may have confided to Joana a piece of information that German weapons manufacturer Prevert (Martina Gedeck) badly wants. Meanwhile, three men are interested in Joana for differing reasons. Carles (Eduardo Noriega) is her betrothed and also Prats’ right-hand man, stiff and formal. The family’s dashing, impulsive servant Vicent (Felix Gomez) fancies her, while her doctor, Meissner (Jack Taylor) is secretly working for Prevert. Together, under the guise of aiding Joana’s recovery, Prevert and Meissner cook up a bizarre scheme to isolate Joana and take advantage of her confusion to see whether she indeed has the info they need.
Since the script doesn’t know where its main focus lies, everything suffers dramatically. The romance element feels flat, and the plot the Germans have hatched is so deliriously farfetched, watching it unfold becomes queasily enjoyable, like viewing an old Hammer Horror pic. But given the amount of plot that’s packed in, it’s astonishing that the proceedings sometimes drag as much as they do.
On the thesping side, Goenaga brings a touch of class to the demanding role of the understandably neurotic heroine. Vet Taylor happily revels in his stereotype as the evil German, but neither Noriega nor Gomez generates the required spark; Gomez, in fact, looks actively uncomfortable.
Pic seems to have been conceived as a sequence of setpieces rather than a dramatic whole, so little apart from a few striking images lingers after the credits. Art directors Nina Caussa and Javier Alvarino deserve praise for their creation of the creepy, spacious chamber in which Joana is confined. Music, by the helmer, is poured on excessively. Pic features some Catalan dialogue.