Review: ‘What Sebastian Dreamt’

Dedicated to late scribe/composer Paul Bowles (and featuring some of his compositions on soundtrack), Guatemalan novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa's "What Sebastian Dreamt" has much in common with that author's best-known tales. It is, similarly, a sort of existential mystery/thriller in which a civilized outsider is gradually absorbed into -- and destroyed by -- human and natural elements in an exotic land.

Dedicated to late scribe/composer Paul Bowles (and featuring some of his compositions on soundtrack), Guatemalan novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s “What Sebastian Dreamt” has much in common with that author’s best-known tales. It is, similarly, a sort of existential mystery/thriller in which a civilized outsider is gradually absorbed into — and destroyed by — human and natural elements in an exotic land. Promising if not entirely satisfying first directorial effort (adapted from helmer’s own tome) is a solid fest item that could score upscale tube dates.

Young Spaniard Sebastian (Andoni Gracia) has built a house on land bought deep in Guatemala’s vanishing rainforest. Although his motives are murky, he is clear about barring local hunters from his property — a move that incurs ire from a family of macho poachers. Murder, malaria, archaeological-relic forgery and the ill-considered visit of a careless French woman (Juliette Deschamps) build a sense of fatalistic intrigue balanced between violence and hallucination. More suspense would have helped punch up the final irony in this atmospheric pic. Though pic would have looked better on film, HD images are rich in color and mystery. Original score by avant-gardist Elliott Sharp is a textural plus.

What Sebastian Dreamt

Guatemala

Production

An El Escarbado production. Produced by Juan Luis Tejada, Laurie Parker. Directed by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Screenplay, Rosa, Robert Fitterman, adapted from the novel by Rosa.

Crew

Camera (color, 35mm PF Sony HD cam), Guillermo Escalon; editor, Henry Hills; music, Elliott Sharp, Paul Bowles. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema), Jan. 23, 2004. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Andoni Gracia, Mariam Suheid Arenas, Juliette Deschamps, Alexis Herrera Alquijay, Juan Carlos Vellido.
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