Blas Eloy Martinez’s Kafkaesque tale “The Notifier” traces the inexorable mental disintegration of Eloy, a judicial process server. Caught between bureaucracy’s minutiae and the inhumanity of the justice it metes out, Eloy at first appears comically dysfunctional, as he stammeringly explains why he must personally deliver notifications to every person named, even if the person is a corpse. As a handheld camera follows his muddled odyssey across the city, sharing his utter disorientation in time and space, Eloy’s psychological state skirts tragedy without losing its absurdist edge. Skedded for a September local release, this Argentinian curio summons fest play.
Falling ever more hopelessly behind in dealing with the huge stack of paperwork he is handed daily, Eloy (Ignacio Toselli) returns home to his increasingly disaffected girlfriend (Guadalupe Docampo) only to stamp and fill out forms, sleeping sporadically in a park. In voiceover, his very thoughts and memories take the form of endless reports to his boss, while his actual reports ramble on for pages, complete with prologues and chapter headings.
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The situations into which Eloy stumbles range from the odd to the unbearable. A gypsy (Monica Cabrera) warns him of imminent death, then comfortingly holds him; at an asylum, he’s forced to take the thumbprint of a woman (Edda Diaz) driven insane by an eviction notice he delivered. Certain encounters prove so painful, they blot out consciousness entirely.
With Eloy’s growing awareness of his mental slippage comes paranoia. Asked to show the ropes to a new co-worker (Ignacio Rogers), he avoids him, and later accuses him of trying to steal his job. He may not be wrong: In a particularly apt bit of surrealism, a process server hands Eloy a summons for an infraction of the rules witnessed by the newbie.
Writer-director Martinez knows whereof he speaks. This first fiction film reps an imaginative variation on his 2005 documentary about process servers and, like his protagonist, Martinez himself worked as a “notifier” for nine years. But more than the incidents themselves, many extracted from real-life situations, the helmer’s visualization of Eloy’s encroaching madness draws the viewer into a disconnection in time and space. Given the camera’s handheld immediacy, certain segues from one image to another might span mere seconds in the same place, or hours in a different location altogether. Dreams of escape unfold like real scenarios, while glitches in the continuum read disquietingly.
Technical difficulties during the screening reviewed caused the 35mm print to be replaced with a less-than-optimum DVD, making it difficult to gauge image quality.