Film festivals are a place for all kinds of films from around the world to come to one place and show themselves to an audience that specifically loves the world of film. Beyond being pure entertainment or an escape from real life. Film festivals should allow for all genres, countries, styles, and messages to be put into a film and enjoyed by audiences. However, the film festival circle has also created its own style of cinema. One that is easy to recognize, you just have to watch it for a couple of minutes to realize that, yes, this is a film festival movie.
The Box is a film written and directed by Lorenzo Vigas, with Paula Markovitch also collaborating on the script. The film stars Hatzín Oscar Navarrete, and Hernán Mendoza. The film tells the story of a young boy who goes to pick up the ashes of his dead father. However, on that journey, he meets a man who looks very much like his dead father, and he decides to follow him around. Searching for a new chance at being with the father he never knew.
The Box is one of those films that has basically mastered the look and feel of a festival film. By the look of a festival film, we meant, solid cinematography that often chooses to show scale by focusing on one landscape and shots that feel almost sterile. Vague storytelling focused on not saying much about what is going on inside the characters’ heads. And of course, a very minimalist soundtrack that just appears every once in a while to punch certain moments, but that lacks a personality on its own.
These are elements that can be found in many films that are mainly made to be rolled out through the festival circuit and then gain some awards here and there until they find a distribution deal. The Box adheres to the formula step by step. There is nothing wrong with a movie being formulaic, but in some moments the movie feels like it is making choices with the festival juries in mind and not for what is good or not for the story itself. Thankfully, the simple but effective story at the core of the movie is strong enough to carry it from beginning to end.
There is a clear metaphor being used here. One that deals with the disappointment that comes from trying to find a father figure everywhere. Sometimes that father figure can be a person you know personally, but sometimes it can also be, a celebrity, an institution, or even a government. Midway through the movie, Vigas explains exactly what the movie is about as the main characters watch the news on TV. The metaphor is a bit on the nose, but it perfectly reflects what many countries, especially those in Latin America, have to face every generation.
The movie focuses a lot of its character work on dealing with humanity’s need for love and belonging. There is an entire section of The Matrix dealing with the same subject. In that movie, the character of Morpheus explains the idea to Neo and to us. He explains how some people are so connected to the matrix and depend on her at such a level that they are ready to lie to themselves and defend her to protect their frail realities. That plot point in the Matrix is extrapolated here in The Box and forms the core of the entire film.
Of course, while the idea is the same, the execution is completely different. The Matrix executes the idea by surrounding it with fantastic visuals and a sense of fun and discovery that make The Matrix such a fun movie to watch. The Box, on the other hand, stretches the idea far beyond its reach, and it has no interest in making the movie a fun experience at all. The pace is as slow as it can be. This pace will definitely lose some people along the way, unless they are in the mood for a movie as slow and uneventful as this one.
If there is something in the movie that most audiences will latch onto, it is the performance of Hatzín Oscar Navarrete as the main character. The movie pushes him as the sole point of view throughout the entire film, and Navarrete does a great job at carrying the film. This is especially impressive when taking into consideration that this is his first role as an actor. Navarrete’s character is quiet and almost Stoic, so it is probable that Vigas molded the character around the strengths of the actors and not the other way around, which, of course, ended up being the right choice.
On a visual level, the movie feels like the next level for the director and his team. The movie follows the style of Vigas previous film, “From Afar” but this time he has the spectacular landscape of the desert to support his theme of isolation. While “From Afar” had to do that while in the confines of a city, The Box can go more literal with that symbolism, which makes it more powerful.
The Box is definitely not a fun movie, but it does a good job of being exactly a fine representation of what its themes are meant to convey. The ending feels like a cop-out, though, as if the movie got the warning that it couldn’t be allowed to end in a more natural and less abrupt manner. Nevertheless, for those who are in the mood for exactly what could be considered a “mood piece” then The Box certainly warrants a watch.