Catalan vet Ventura Pons has spent a cinematic lifetime slyly winking at the foibles of human nature, and it’s business as usual with his latest, the sharp-witted but uneven “A Thousand Fools.” A history of human stupidity based, like 1995’s “What’s It All About,” on stories by Quim Monzo, pic hurtles through 15 mini-yarns in under 90 minutes. The result is never dull but rarely engrossing, and has a misanthropic air that tries patience. But though he’s treading water, the helmer shows real craft in forging coherence from fragmentary material with a cast of thousands. Fest appearances beckon.
Pic unfolds through the character of writer Ignasi (Jordi Bosch), presumably a Monzo surrogate, who divides his 15 tales into three sections. In the contempo-set first section (made up of eight stories), Albert (Aleix Albareda) visits his cross-dressing father in a retirement home and helps him with his makeup, although transvestism is touchingly never mentioned by name. Other yarns are either preachy — such as one in which a teacher rebukes an injured boy for messing up the floor — or too focused on the sting in the tail, as when a young man stops a woman from jumping from a building and unsurprisingly falls off himself. The standout item in an otherwise very verbal film is a wordless, grimly moving sequence involving aging widow Hortensia (Julieta Serrano), who slowly dismantles her own home and takes it out, bit by bit, to the trash.
Any traces of tenderness disappear when the second section begins, which supplies six playfully revisionist takes on myths and fairy tales, staged to look like silent movies. When the angel Gabriel (Edu Soto) appears to Mary (Elena Tarrats), she tells him she doesn’t want the kid and sends him packing. Robin Hood (Santi Millan) steals so much from the rich that they become poor themselves. Mostly, these artificial little sketches are little more than intellectual jokes of varying quality.
Pic saves the worst for last in its lengthiest piece, about Ignasi’s troubled relationship with his aging parents. That said, the final scene wraps things up very cleverly.
As a treatise on human nature, pic feels depressing and, inevitably, superficial. But it’s impressive as a showcase for local thesping talent: There are more than 30 key roles, and the uniformly Catalan cast is well directed across the board, although their sheer quantity means the perfs starts to blur around the hour mark. Vets Serrano and Joan Crosas stand out, taking their time amid the forward rush.
Visuals are unobtrusive; faces pop up unexpectedly in multiple stories to pull things together neatly, if pretty meaninglessly. Carles Cases’ jaunty lounge-bar-style score mars the impact of several scenes in the first part, but is the salvation of others in the second.