Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s debut feature El Alma de las Moscas (made with a skeleton crew and on a budget under 1000 euros) became a festival favourite last year. But now, as it makes its way home video, should you take the time to check it out?
Completely oblivious of the existence of the other, Brothers Miguel (Javier Saez) and Nero (Andrea Calabrese) are brought together by their recently deceased father. Who, in a letter asking them to attend his funeral, reveals their – until now – unknown family ties. Meeting for the first time, the brothers decide to travel to the funeral together, what follows is a series of events that lead to one, rather strange, road trip.
If Wes Anderson and an Instagram photo somehow defied science and had an illegitimate lovechild, Jonathan Cenzual Burley’s El Alma de las Moscas would be the result. It is as equally frustrating as it is endearing. Comfortable bathing in its own kookiness and unapologetic of its derivative style, it loiters on annoyance but somehow is saved by the central relationship and chemistry between the two leads. The surrealist dream-like edge of the film does have a certain quality, as does the style (it’s a beautiful-looking movie), it also delivers some laughs with its – dare I say it? – quirky attitude, however, nothing really feels new. Recycled ideas and a demeanour that we’ve seen done better in other films, leaves the film, in a word, unmemorable.
Set in the sun soaking landscape of La Armuna, the isolation of their journey only reiterates their need for one another and as they, slowly-but-surely, become closer, the themes of family and trust bleed through, taking the film in a direction where it becomes something more than just an stylistic exercise. The people they meet and the events that unfold, plus the chaptered structure, may be there for quirks and hamfisted laughs, but it manages to keep that central relationship close to its chest and intact. And if there’s anything to take away from the film it’s exactly the idea that we all need family, even if we think we don’t.
At only 79 minutes in length, it keeps its offbeat energy easily, always staying on the right side of entertaining. As a first feature, and on the rumoured budget, El Alma de las Moscas is qualified success for Burley. But, even though he’s definitely got talent, he needs to try and find his own voice with his next project because the magpie feeling to Moscas could get old very quickly.