Freshman helmer Elio Quiroga, 28, daringly exposes a weird post-adolescent psyche in “Photos,” a disturbing, arty movie about perverted sex, religion, death and destiny which is hilarious and appalling by turns. Pic revels in its own Catholic kitsch to the total exclusion of things like logic. Since its biggest debts are to over-the-top Mexican mellers, “Photos” is unlikely to be snapped up by mainstream buyers. But it has done decent B.O. at home, and could become a fest curiosity.
Pic opens with a child, Azucena, witnessing her prostitute mother having sex with a strange man. Cut to the present and 22-year-old Azucena (Mercedes Ortega, looking like a young Ornella Muti) still lives with Mom, works in a photography store, feels sick at the thought of physical contact with men and is deeply religious — to the extent that stigmata appear on her hands. She is followed around by Cesar (Miguel Alonso), a bisexual admirer with a video camera, whose boyfriend, Jacinto (Miky Molina), is insanely jealous.
One afternoon, Cesar tries to rape Azucena. She runs away and is advised by the Virgin Mary (who pops up at crisis points) to go into a nightclub called Metal. Here she meets hunky, confused transvestite stripper Narciso (Gustavo Salmeron), whose parents whip him, force him to wear women’s underwear and thoroughly disapprove of Azucena. It’s a match made in heaven between two youngsters who hate themselves sexually. But when Cesar kills himself, Jacinto vows bloody revenge on Azucena.
Watching pic is like being held in the grip of someone else’s dark imagination, and Quiroga has successfully translated many of his own interests/obsessions into striking visual images. Like many overconfident debuts, pic mixes genres — in this case melodrama, suspense and Gothic horror — in a devil-may-care way, and pays a high dramatic price.
As the script develops, all plausibility is lost, and by the time Narciso is cutting off his penis with a pair of garden shears and a doctor called Gabriel is sprouting wings and turning into an angel, hilarity is the only result. Any feeling for the characters’ disturbing plights has disappeared, and lack of thematic focus barely compensates.