Festival Films, critic’s pick: Argentina’s ‘The Hostage of Illusions’

Pablo, a famous Argentinian writer in his late sixties, enters his elevator to go to his writing studio; a number of people ascend the stairs in his building to join him. Among them are a man dressed up in an expensive suit, a sad woman with a gun in her hand, a working class man with a bullet hole in his forehead, and a crying child following her mother.

Pablo sits on his chair facing his computer and the people begin knocking, demanding his attention.

“You promised to kill me weeks ago, Pablo,” says the woman with a gun. “If you don’t do it, I’ll do it myself!” Pablo shakes his head in agreement and takes a paper from her. “For the sake of the poor! You need to write my story for the sake of the poor!” says the lady, holding her crying child.

Pablo touches her face gently and takes the paper in her hand. “This story is going to win you a Nobel Prize, Pablo!” the suited guy says, handing a paper to Pablo, who takes it and closes the door.

As the characters disappear, Pablo, at his desk, is left with only blank papers and a blank computer screen. The people, it turns out, were all undeveloped characters from Pablo’s future works of fiction.

Argentinian writer and director Eliseo Subiela is famous for his magical realism style, as in “The Effect of Love” (2007) and “Don't Look Down” (2008). His sensitive feel for detail allows him to add an element of unpredictability to his films; this talent works strongly in his favor in his latest effort, “The Hostage of Illusions.”

The movie, which was one of the candidates to be the opening film of the 34th Cairo International Film Festival, is gripping from start to finish.

The plot is simple yet extremely artistic, with a great deal of character development. Pablo meets a photojournalist in her early thirties named Laura, who he falls passionately in love with. The affair has to be hidden from Pablo’s wife and Laura’s boyfriend. The extreme lifestyle of sex, drugs and psychotic breakdowns Laura introduces him to relieves Pablo of his writer’s block.

Pablo begins writing his love affair into his next novel, and in the process his feelings for Laura change into a fatherly love that allows him to better understand her deranged mental status. Laura is paranoid. She believes that people are out to get her, that her father wants to ruin her and that the porter wants to sell her flesh. But Pablo can’t stay away from Laura; she becomes his lover, his daughter and his muse.

The movie brings the love story between the two characters to the screen with no apologies, showing the truth as it is and refusing to shy away from certain details. Some might argue that the love scenes were useless to the film, but the beautiful and artistic style they were portrayed in makes them a poetic and necessary part of the movie.

The surrealistic element sometimes come as a surprise. Some scenes intentionally muddy the distinction between reality and Pablo’s rich fantasy life, his novels.

Decent acting, a powerful soundtrack and great editing bring the movie together and distinguish it from the largely underwhelming entries into the International Competition. It might inspire you to write a story yourself.

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