A fantasy world better left unexplored
“Why is it that there are people who get what they want, and others who strive hard and don’t get anything? — I don’t know, it must be destiny — Do you believe in destiny? — I don’t know, when I was little I believed in love.” This is one of the many verbal exchanges that go for big meanings in Amapola, the debut film as a director of US-based Argentine production designer Eugenio Zanetti, who’s worked extensively in many formulaic Hollywood films such as There Be Dragons, The Haunting, What Dreams May Come, and Last Action Hero.
According to the press release, Amapola is a romantic comedy narrated in the vein of magic realism, featuring a musical version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (and some other musical numbers which include mambo), and with a lead, Amapola, who has a gift for seeing the future and time travelling, so she can make amends for her mistakes (and those of others) and dream of a better world where she can be happy and win back a long-lost love. As a background, are the 1976-1983 Argentine military dictatorship and the Malvinas War (including some lines from a speech by ex-president Leopoldo Galtieri). Unfortunately, the press release is right as Amapola is all these things — but put together in a contrived, senseless manner. Not that it could have been something different, for it’s the type of film doomed from the very start.
It’s very clear that Amapola takes place in a universe far away from reality, but even a fantastic environment calls for some originality and a sense of real magic instead of having pretentious characters, plots, subplots, occurrences and dramatic turning points that are corny, trite, and arbitrary. A fantasy world needs a personality of its own, not a constant explanation of what the movie wants to convey.
As for the casting, Ana María Picchio and Adriana Aizemberg only appear in one shot each. Why bother having good actresses if they don’t get to act? Same thing with Nicolás Pauls, who doesn’t utter a single line — although considering his limited acting ability, maybe it’s better off like this. Then there’s Geraldine Chaplin, who hasn’t had a decent role in a decent movie for ages. Needless to say, Amapola is no exception. As for Luciano Cáceres, he does his best, but there’s always so much he can do. François Arnaud, the good looking long-lost love of Amapola, comes across as more of a model than an actor
Last but not least, there’s the glossy, polished cinematography typical of a certain kind of advertising cinema, which is ok for commercials of expensive cars, fine clothing or pricey summer resorts, but it’s quite tacky and formulaic here — all the more so because it pretends to be refined and elegant. Just picture golden, yellowish surfaces and reflections covering it all — literally — as though there were sunsets and sunrises left, right, below and above. For the sequences taking place in the future, the palette is bluish and greyish since the future is cold and bleak. Such a tacky, unimaginative set of aesthetics is hard to digest.
But there are two good things about Amapola: first, in terms of technique, it’s professionally shot — like a Hollywood movie, if you will. Secondly, it only runs for 84 minutes. Yet, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it still feels too long.