Perversity becomes the new normal in “The Mosquito Net,” as the members of a Catalan family struggle to cover up, make excuses for or put a stop to their own basest impulses. Sophomore fiction feature from Spanish helmer Agusti Vila (“A Bench in the Park”) is a clinically observed family drama that fascinates on a conceptual level but remains an emotionally cold exercise that never quite engages. Though pic won’t fly very far theatrically beyond home turf, its Karlovy Vary competition berth could lead to some buzz on the fest circuit.
Aloof 15-year old Luis (Marcos Franz) amasses stray animals in his family’s coldly decorated Barcelona apartment. His fastidious father, Miguel (Eduard Fernandez), is annoyed, but his over-protective mother, Alicia (Emma Suarez), thinks it’s a good thing if Luis surrounds himself with beings that can give him a little affection. Clearly, the taciturn boy doesn’t get much love from his next of kin — and they realize it, too.
Luis’ parents don’t sleep in the same room, and when Alicia decides it’s time to chuck her husband out, he takes it all in stride. Absolved, at least in their minds, of their shared parental duties, both immediately pursue wildly inappropriate sexual relationships. Alicia turns one of Luis’ schoolmates (Alex Battlori) into a boy toy, while Miguel continues to chase after the family’s South-American cleaning lady (Martina Garcia).
The director coolly observes the irrational behavior and at times absurd chains of events set in motion by these dispassionate characters, but until a delicious finale set around the dinner table, the film has neither the hypnotic quality nor the wicked sense of humor of a film like the recent “Dogtooth.”
The ideas are all there, but they never become part of an organic whole, as evidenced by the way in which the screenplay’s two subplots — involving Miguel’s suicidal parents (Geraldine Chaplin, Fermi Reixach) and aunt Raquel (Anna Ycobalzeta), who takes teaching her offspring some discipline too far — never feel connected to the story of the nuclear family, despite the fact that they’re cut from the same cloth on a thematic level. Leitmotif of dead animals adds a morbid undercurrent but offers no clear commentary on the proceedings.
The women are the standouts in the ensemble, with Suaraz fully inhabiting her role and Ycobalzeta also strong in the underwritten part of a mother who applies too much logic when punishing her child. Chaplin has nothing more than a glorified cameo.
Tech credits are fine, with d.p. Neus Olle (“Birdsong”) using diffused light and muted colors that recall the watercolor drawings Alicia makes as part of the disturbing children’s books she designs for a living. Title is a reference to one of her stories.