Friday, 29 May 2009

TimeCrimes (2007)

Invisible binoculars!

One film I recently saw and mostly enjoyed was Primer, a low-budget film about a couple of engineers who accidentally invent a time machine (oops) and then spend the rest of the film abusing the technology and gradually getting themselves deeper and deeper into trouble. I appreciated the way it was grounded in hard science and didn't talk down to the audience, but it's definitely a film that requires multiple viewings. I saw it two and a half times and I'm still not entirely sure what happened. I mean, just take a look at this chart. I like intelligent films and all but Jesus Christ. It didn't help that the film had this detached, dare I say engineerish feel to it that put the mechanics of the plot above everything else.

Therefore it's really nice to have something like TimeCrimes, a Spanish film with the same intelligent time-travel plot and similar themes, but also a little more accessible and easy to follow.

Héctor (Karra Elejalde) is an ordinary middle aged dude (who actually looks like a normal dude and not a Hollywood actor pretending to be a normal dude) moving into a new house in the country with his wife Clara (Candela Fernández). He is lounging on a deck chair in his back yard spying on his neighbours, when suddenly he stumbles upon the holy grail of neighbourhood-spying: A hot girl taking her top off. Naturally he goes to investigate, but when he finds the girl naked and unconscious, a mysterious man with a bandaged face stabs him in the arm and begins to chase after him.

Héctor escapes and takes refuge in a mysterious laboratory next door. With the aid of a laboratory technician (played by writer/director Nacho Vigalondo) he soon finds himself transported about an hour into the past. Now he's got to make sure his past self plays things out the same way and gets to the time machine so he can travel into the past so he can make sure he gets to the time machine so he can travel into the past etc.

This film is quite cleverly structured and well-paced so that while some things are fairly easy to figure out early on (such as the identity of the bandaged man), a third act twist piles on some more mystery and keeps you guessing (almost) until the end. It's never difficult to follow but it takes some pretty dark turns and Héctor gets into a few nasty situations. His face gets so banged up and swollen that by the end he's barely recognisable. Not much else to say without spoiling things, so I'll leave it at that.

Time travel films tend to fall into two main camps. There are the ones where you have to avoid meddling in the past or you'll fuck everything up in the future and there are the ones where it doesn't matter what you do because it's all predestined to happen anyway. TimeCrimes tries to have it's time-travelling cake and eat it too. When Héctor goes back to the past he has to ensure that everything plays out the same way, but it seems like events unfold the same way whether he intends them to or not. The result is some sketchy character motivation that reveals the plot mechanics whirring underneath, but it's overall it's a pretty clever and intriguing tale. Way better than shitty Hollywood fare like The Butterfly Effect or Timeline.

Okay I'm going to push headlong into spoiler territory here so go away and see it if you haven't seen it already.

Okay are you back? Pretty good, huh? I found the ending to be a surprising bummer, what with him travelling millions of years into the past and being eaten by dinosaurs and causing a space-time rift that destroyed the universe. I didn't see that one coming. Okay, that didn't really happen, it was a trick for all you people who didn't see the film but kept reading anyway. Go away and see it for real this time.

You've seen it for real? Alright then. That poor cyclist had one lousy day, huh? Chased through the woods by a creepy guy covered in bandages. Forced to take her top off for some neighbourhood perv with binoculars and then knocked unconscious and stripped naked (and raped, for all she knew). Then, when she's on the verge of escaping, Héctor 3 cuts off her hair and all but pushes her off the roof himself. It's a pretty downbeat ending, but one that shows the terrible consequences of time travel. If you fuck about with the spacetime continuum then people are going to get hurt. Just wish it didn't have to be hot young cyclists.

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