FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions (2004)

This is a strange one.

For a brief moment, Carlos Atanes had a certain cult-y sort of reputation, thanks to a series of odd, surreal shorts and his first two films, FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions and Proxima (2007).  Perhaps he still has that reputation in certain quarters:  it is hard to be certain when you have a director who has made so few films and refuses to take part in the mainstream film industry or distribution system.  He’s one of those directors whose work you are unlikely to see outside of a film festival, or on video from a virtually non-existent company.  Right at the moment, you can find most of his films on Amazon, but somehow one doesn’t expect that to last very long.

While the short films that first earned him a reputation are almost plotless exercises in surreal excess, his first two films combine strange imagery with more-or-less effective science fictional story lines.  His more recent films, however, seem to have abandoned restraint, reason and sense in favor of absurdity, excess and Aleister Crowley’s sex magick.

Which come to think of it is more or less what happened to the once-brilliant Craig Baldwin (who made the stunning Tribulation 99:  Alien Anomalies Across America entirely from stock footage).

I quite liked Atanes’ Phillip K. Dick homage, Proxima, despite its heavy, New Age elements, and for some time have tried to find this one.  It is set in a dystopian future, where all reproduction is carried out by machines and it is illegal for people to even touch each other.  The Sisterhood of Metacontrol runs everything, broadcasting constant warnings about breaking the rules and coming into contact with other people, and boasting that they have eliminated disease this way.

However, the Sisterhood seems more like a business club than Bene Gesserits, dressing in ordinary but severe clothes, and inducting a new member in a ceremony that mostly involves filling out paperwork, and running the government in the most bureaucratic manner imaginable.

And, despite its extreme elements, this is a very prosaic future, complete with government ministries, all shot in modern day Paris.

It does tell you a lot, however, that a Spanish director made a film in French:  you don’t have to be a total cynic to think that makes it seem more like an authentic art house film.

But this doesn’t seem to have much to do with the main story, which involves a young man who records sounds too faint to be heard and may or may not have special gifts; and the new member of the Sisterhood whom he works for.

I suppose you’d call it a romance, although it is one that involves a secret group of pornographers, the destruction of the Eiffel tower, and a director with a red rubber clown nose.

The ending is fourth wall and decidedly metafictional.  I suppose the final twist is reasonably well set up in advance, but it is still a decidedly odd sort of ending — the sort of ending intended more to get film critics talking, one suspects, than to bring things together in a satisfying way.

Despite some strange imagery and a rather dark sequence set in the Sisterhood’s “Justice” system, this is a calm, quiet and mostly impersonal sort of film.  I doubt if the average viewer will make much sense of it all:  those interested in more arty films will probably appreciate it far more.

However, this one just isn’t as successful as Proxima, which might almost have made it as a mainstream film.

Almost.

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