×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: ‘Fausto’

Unclassifiable, often inscrutable but also strangely immersive, Andrea Bussmann's experimental feature etches folky poetry in the night sky.

Director:
Andrea Bussmann
With:
Victor Pueyo, Fernando Renjifo, Ziad Chakaroun

1 hour 10 minutes

In more ways than one, “Fausto” is a film that likes to keep its audience in the dark: The bulk of its imagery is thickly cloaked in velvety night, often barely illuminated but for pinpricks of moonlight or a flickering candle, sometimes to the point where viewers must strain and squint to identify what they’re really looking at. That’s no accident, as Andrea Bussmann’s beguiling, perplexing sophomore feature is out to challenge the way we see and interpret images, and attach them to accompanying narratives. Packed with shards of local folklore and half-remembered mythology from the Oaxacan beach community on which it centers, this unidentified filmic object resists illustrating these tall tales, effectively testing our belief in its vivid oral ethnography, all while occupying its own liminal, unstable space between documentary and fiction.

Having already garnered festival acclaim in Locarno, Toronto and Berlin’s Critics’ Week sidebar, this ultra-independent experiment — produced, written, shot and cut by its Canadian helmer — may be too esoteric for most distributors’ tastes, but it will continue to pop up in specialized showcases like this month’s “Locarno in Los Angeles” event. Arthouse SVOD platforms should also bite, though it must be said that home viewing conditions aren’t optimal for “Fausto’s” immersively murky visuals. Rather like the nocturnal animals that count among the film’s various, disparate fixations, viewers must wait for their eyes to adjust to the dark before its themes and rewards come into focus — and even then, they remain far from crystalline.

The familiar German legend referenced in the title is one key to unlocking the whole, though it’s also a bit of a decoy. Bussmann’s film is hardly a standard adaptation, and while its sliver of binding narrative may involve an uncanny exchange of sorts, those Faustian allusions are merely woven in with other threads of fanciful indigenous storytelling, none granted more significance or credence than another. Indeed, there’s no room for cultural imperialism in a study heavily preoccupied with the space — physical and intellectual — that men claim from each other and nature alike.

Local non-actors play out the film’s minimal, reality-blurring drama. On an otherwise secluded stretch of Mexican coastline, friends Fernando (Fernando Renjifo) and Alberto (Alberto Núñez) run a small beachside bar that they’re keen to expand — at the expense of surrounding wilderness rumored to house the lair of a powerful witch. With the aid of their cartographer friend Ziad (Ziad Chakaroun), they begin to research the lay of the land, uncovering a wealth of local legends and superstitions in the process, muddling their business-minded mission with impractical magic. Tales of telepathic animals and women in the woods who may or may not be ghosts commingle with their own uncanny experience, involving an enigmatic French hobo who turns up at the bar, seeking work and shelter in exchange for his only possession: his shadow.

At multiple turns, it seems, Fernando and Alberto are compelled to take intangible spiritual capital — a stranger’s shadow (or soul?), sacred or enchanted land — for their own economic or material gain. The wider metaphorical implications of this are clearer than anything else in “Fausto,” as Bussmann invites us to consider the ancient cultural traditions and belief systems lost throughout history to colonization and gentrification. Frequently, a measured, omniscient narrator discusses the supposedly purer way animals see the world, analyzing a cat’s psychic capabilities or a horse’s field of vision with a straight-faced blend of stuffy science and outright whimsy; as with Fernando and Alberto’s investigation, fact and fancy bleed fluidly into into each other throughout the film’s thesis.

That puckish unreliability, even in the film’s most starkly poetic interludes, keeps “Fausto” far from message-movie territory. It’s an essay that admits the very human blind spots in its knowledge and understanding of the universe, and exposes them, so to speak, in the blanketing darkness of its images — shot on digital and transferred to 16mm for maximum, mysterious grain and dust. We’re told, truthfully or otherwise, that the beach sand has iron levels that render phones and other devices dysfunctional, turning their screens black; teasingly, the frame repeatedly threatens to succumb to the same technological curse. “We live in a conscious universe, we just don’t realize it,” says one of Bussmann’s subjects; in “Fausto,” the first step to making sense of the cosmos is to stop trying.

Popular on Variety

Locarno in Los Angeles Film Review: 'Fausto'

Reviewed online, London, June 14, 2019. (In Locarno Film Festival — Cinema of the Present; Toronto Film Festival — Wavelengths.) Running time: 70 MIN.

Production: (Canada-Mexico) Producer: Andrea Bussmann. Co-producer: Nicolás Pereda.

Crew: Director, screenplay, camera (color, HD-to-16mm), editor: Andrea Bussmann.

With: Victor Pueyo, Fernando Renjifo, Ziad Chakaroun, Alberto Núñez, Gabino Rodríguez. (Spanish, English, French, Arabic dialogue)

More Film

  • Ruth HandlerBARBIE DOLL, OFFICIALLY INAUGURATED AT

    'Dream Doll' Biopic on Barbie Doll Inventor in Development (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Dream Doll,” a biopic based on Barbie Doll inventor Ruth Handler, is in development with Bron Studios, Rita Wilson and Rare Bird Films, Variety has learned exclusively. The film will chronicle the life of Handler as she founded Mattel in 1945 and created the now-iconic Barbie doll, named after her daughter Barbara, in 1959. Handler [...]

  • hugh jackman tiff bad education

    HBO Buys Hugh Jackman Dramedy 'Bad Education'

    HBO will buy “Bad Education,” a dark look at corruption in a Long Island public school district that earned strong reviews after it premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The pact is for a reported $17.5 million, making it the largest deal of an otherwise lackluster movie market at the festival. With a [...]

  • MoviePass card

    How MoviePass's Former Chairman Plans to Save the Floundering Company

    Ted Farnsworth still believes that MoviePass, the high-flying subscription service that crashed to Earth in spectacular fashion, can soar again. The former head of Helios and Matheson Analytics, the data company that bought MoviePass in 2017 and turned it into a phenomenon by allowing customers to see a movie per day for $9.99 a month, [...]

  • Streaming Battle: Disney, Apple and More

    The Battle for Eyeballs Makes for an Action-Packed Streaming Arena (Column)

    It came as no surprise last week that Disney CEO Bob Iger had resigned from the Apple board since the two companies are poised to launch competing subscription streaming services in less than two months. But Iger’s departure (announced the same day that Apple revealed its Nov. 1 launch date and $5-a-month price point) underscores [...]

  • La vaca

    Alec Baldwin’s El Dorado Boards Debut by Chile’s Francisca Alegria (EXCLUSIVE)

    In what marks the company’s first Latin American project, Alec Baldwin’s El Dorado Pictures has boarded Chilean filmmaker Francisca Alegria’s debut feature, “The Cow Who Sang a Song About the Future.” The multi-Emmy-winning actor and his El Dorado partner Casey Bader will serve as executive producers of the film, slated to start principal photography in [...]

  • Inside Tinder's User-Controlled, Secret Streaming Sereis

    Inside Tinder's Secret Streaming Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Popular dating app Tinder is set to release a choose-your-own-adventure-style original series in early October, marking its first outing as a content financier and distributor, numerous individuals close to the project told Variety. The series is set against an impending apocalypse, one of the insiders noted, and asks the question “Who would you spend your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content