The rare feature to treat science seriously and respectfully, Sebastian Brahm’s “Roman’s Circuit” fascinates with its mix of actual and invented ideas on memory and neuroscience, but falls short as a character study of a once-promising neuropsychologist in career decline. Protag’s attempts to publish for the first time in a while intersect with academic warfare, a past romance and a promising student, but the result feels more like an outline than a finished film. Fest and market response will be respectful but muted.
Roberto Roman (Cristian Carvajal) made a name for himself in his late 20s with groundbreaking research on memory. Initially unexplained events prompted him to jump off the academic fast track, but he’s returned to the psychology department at Chile’s State U. in Santiago at the invitation of mendacious department head Osvaldo (Pablo Krogh). Roberto is to have relatively free rein in a lab that’s set to be upgraded, but he must work under former peer Jose Luis (Alexis Moreno); he doesn’t know it, but despite these less-than-ideal conditions, he’s fortunate to have brilliant grad student Javier (Camilo Carmona), Roberto’s self-declared “biggest fan,” as his research assistant.
Roberto is staying with his mom, Carmen (Shlomit Baytelman), away from Argentine-born wife Ines (Argentine thesp Julia Martinez Rubio, “Todos Mienten,” “Castro”), who makes a surprise visit. This seems to open up a fissure, however, as Osvaldo begins to make moves on Carmen, much to Ines’ amusement, and Roberto crosses paths with Jose Luis’ wife, Silvia (Paola Giannini), who was Roberto’s g.f. a decade ago.
This past relationship and a chain of scenes with Ines initiate a flow of memories for Roberto that begin to alter the film’s rhythm and even its style at the midpoint. Brahm and his skilled editor, Andres Tambornino, splice and fracture scenes, occasionally producing surprising moments of recognition.
But in this approach, which strongly recalls Alain Resnais’ more complex cinematic explorations of memory in “Last Year at Marienbad” and “Muriel,” Brahm aims but never realizes those “Eureka!” moments that are part of Javier and Roberto’s research, and the layered flashbacks fail to draw the viewer into Roberto’s character, perhaps because Carvajal’s dull, cryptic performance makes him a near-blank. Only Giannini and Baytelman suggest backstories, their performances themselves an artful form of memory work, and Krogh does a solid variation on his usual role as the heavy.
Certain dense dialogue passages regarding brain and memory science, replete with technical jargon, are clearly not meant to be comprehended, even on a second viewing. Much like techno-speak in war, sci-fi and thriller pics, the words lend an air of authenticity more important than viewer understanding.
Production package is elegant and sleek, with details that suggest a grimy city surrounding the clean lab environments. The 35mm print viewed in Toronto was subpar; upcoming screenings are promised to be pristine.