By Kim Voynar

Hotel Atlantico Directed by Suzana Amaral

At a fest like TIFF there are both small gems to uncover, and lumps of coal in the festival stocking to ponder, as in: why is this film even in this festival, and, more importantly, what better film did I miss while I was wasting two hours of my life waiting in vain for this one to get better? Such was the case with my first film of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Hotel Atlantico, directed by Suzana Amaral, who way back in 1985 directed the critically acclaimed The Hour of the Star, which scored three awards at the Berlinale.

Although I’ve never seen The Hour of the Star, I’d heard enough good things about it from people whose opinions I respect to merit adding her latest effort to my list of TIFF films. Unfortunately, in this particular case past brilliance does not equal present artistry, or even adequacy, and beyond that its treatment of the female characters is rather shocking given that the writer/director is a woman.

Hotel Atlantico follows a vagabond (apparently unemployed, as he has lots of time to wander aimlessly around) character we know only as the Artist on a long and seeminly pointless journey as he meets death and cinematic cliches at every turn. A dead body on a gurney as he checks into the hotel; a suicidally depressed woman on a bus, mourning the loss of her daughter; two characters in a bar who offer him a ride, with menacing intent (intent, I should note, that’s so blatantly telegraphed one wonders that this man, or anyone, would willingly get into a car with them … they might as well have been carrying machetes and guns and wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “We Plan to Kill You” imprinted on them).

Then there’s the epileptic sexton and a grossly obese woman caring for a small village church, the priest having died several years ago; a dying woman in the village, for whom he’s asked to perform the rite of Extreme Unction when her sister mistakes him for a priest because he’s wearing bothered robes (and good thing this devoutly Catholic Brazilian woman doesn’t realize he’s completely bullshitting his way through one of the most sacred rites in Catholocism); a sinister surgeon who amputates the Artist’s leg for his own political gain; and the surgeon’s daughter, who apparently has a bizarre sexual fetish for newly one-legged actors of little note.

It’s all rather silly, and not in a good way; more than that, though, the film lacks both feeling and humanity — or at least, lacks any positive view of humanity — and I’m still not sure after reflecting upon it just what the point was or why I wasted my time on it.  By the time we got to the end, where we come back around to the beginning, I began to wonder just what the point was of either the Actor’s journey or of me wasting two hours of precious festival viewing time watching it. The fest program guide optimistically calls it “Lynchian,” but that’s a rather significant stretch that implies the film is more interesting than it is.

What’s so particularly frustrating about seeing a film likeHotel Atlantico at a fest like TIFF is that there are so many films on the schedule, and only so many you can possibly squeeze into the eight or nine days you’re here. Every fest film is a bit of a crapshoot, of course, but it doesn’t make it easier to swallow having wasted time you could have spent on something better.

Hotel Atlantico, for all that it’s screening in the Master Artists section of the fest, unfortunately just doesn’t cut it. If the film at least had something interesting going on with the cinematography or lighting, or a compelling plot, or something, anything other than the most bizarre case of popcorn sex you’re likely to see in a film to recommend it, I wouldn’t have felt my time was so completely wasted.

-by Kim Voynar

..Toronto Film Festival 2009
..MCN Weekend

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