Director: Daniel Graham
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Andrés Almeida, Carlos Aragón
Watch Opus Zero online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
“The goal is perfectly well defined. It’s the route I’m taking that’s not well defined.” That’s the sound of one artist talking to another in Opus Zero, a film that spends 84 abstract minutes losing itself in questions of method, madness, mystery and creative motivation. The main question it leaves you with, though, is whether it has any answers at all – or whether it’s even interested in them.
The film stars Willem Dafoe as Paul, a composer from America who heads to the Mexican village of Real de Catorce, after his estranged father dies. Trying to settle his old man’s affairs, he finds a photo of a young woman, Marianne, and decides to find her to bridge the gap between him and his father. And so he wanders the town’s streets, trying to communicate with the locals.
At the same time, a documentary crew arrives to make a film about natural life in the village, before they cross paths with Paul. And so director Daniel (Andres Almeida) winds up quizzing Paul on camera about the nature of his work, and their exchange about the very nature of artistic endeavours forms the climax of the narrative.
Narrative, though, is the loosest possible term for the movie’s events, and their conversation is as circular and tautological as it is long-winded and obtuse They speak with a vocabulary full of artifice rather than real emotion – an alienating quality that echoes the way in which Paul talks to the town’s residents via a remote, robotic translation app.
The town itself, though, is gorgeously shot, and director Daniel Graham’s framing of the surrounding landscapes, as well as the lives within the town walls, are wonderfully evocative. But for every stunning moment, and for every superb bit of facial acting from the always-excellent Willem Dafoe, there is another that disengages you from the movie’s hazy charms, resulting in a jigsaw that never quite comes together – you suspect that it might not even want to. A beautiful, frustrating curio.
Opus Zero is available now in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.