'Warehoused' ('Almacenados'): Morelia Review

Courtesy of Morelia Film Fest
This occasionally absurd dramedy works on all levels.

Mexican veteran actor Jose Carlos Ruiz and appealing up-and-comer Hoze Melendez represent the two extremes of working life in director Jack Zagha Kababie's deliciously absurd comedy-drama.

The first day at any new job can be a little disorienting but the Mexican slacker protagonist of Warehoused (Almacenados) finds he needs to make some major mental adjustments in order to make sense of his new position as a depot assistant. A slickly packaged and entertaining two-hander that’s both smartly observational about the value and minutiae of employment and often hilariously absurd — essentially this is Waiting for Godot with (or rather without) merchandise — Warehoused was directed by Jack Zagha Kababie (One for the Road) and precisely plotted and superbly written by David Desola Mediavilla. It should travel extensively to festivals and could be a coup for passionate boutique distributors who know how to market atypical, arthouse-light projects. A stage adaptation would also be possible, even if the film’s supple cinematography keeps things from becoming too stage-bound throughout.

The film is divided into five chapters, from Monday to Friday, as the story follows the first workweek of Nin (Hoze Melendez), a young man who’s not quite a bum but not exactly the most motivated worker either. Nin is destined to be a warehouse assistant for only one week before replacing the current warehouse head, Mr. Lino (veteran actor José Carlos Ruiz), who needs to show him the ropes before he retires in a week.

Much to the surprise of Nin, the warehouse where they work, on the outskirts of the city, is completely empty when he arrives on Monday morning for his first day at work. The company for which they work produces aluminum masts and flagpoles but none are to be seen (Mr. Lino explains they only store masts, flagpoles go to another warehouse). All the depot contains is one desk, one chair and a punch clock on the wall that’s the topic of conversation for the film’s first, chuckle-inducing ten minutes. The trucks with merchandise "will arrive when they come," explains Nin’s superior, and "we need to be ready at all times for that occurrence." He then sits down, leaving Nin standing right next to the desk for the rest of the day. Nin’s solution to that problem provides the film’s first major guffaw while it’s simultaneously revealing about the different attitudes toward work and life of the older and younger man.

With this simple set-up and on this even simpler stage, the director and his screenwriter spin a frequently funny but also surprisingly perceptive tale about work, duty and the importance of constant readiness, since that’s all that can be reasonably expected in the absence of anything else that needs doing (they do sweep the floor of the empty building 15 minutes before going home each day). The enormous generation gap between someone at his first adult job and someone about to retire is of course fertile ground for discussions about how attitudes about employment have changed, while clever use of repetition over the course of the week creates expectations that can be thwarted by obscure rules and exceptions. Carefully planted bits of information that might seem irrelevant will later turn out to be the vital for astonishing new developments, even as the titular locale remains empty for most of the proceedings.

Spanish-born screenwriter Mediavilla also wrote Kababie’s previous film, the old-geezer road-trip comedy One for the Road, but here they reach a heightened level of synergy that breathes new life into the rather straightforward concept of a single location and a seemingly straightforward premise. Their attention to detail, both in the writing and the characterizations, is impressive throughout, and the rules-obsessed Ruiz and the laidback but far from stupid Melendez form a remarkable couple of opposites in just about every way. (A single sour note is Nin’s second phone conversation, which stretches emotional and storytelling credibility.)

Combined with the supple work of cinematographer Claudio Rocha, who keeps finding new ways to explore a fixed space and the two characters in it, the film remains fresh visually as well without letting the camerawork draw unnecessary attention to itself.

Production companies: Avanti Pictures, Producciones Chonchas, Zensky Cine

Cast: José Carlos Ruiz, Hoze Melendez

Director: Jack Zagha Kababie

Screenplay: David Desola Mediavilla

Producers: Yossy Zagha, Elsa Reyes

Director of photography: Claudio Rocha

Production designer: Jay Aroesty

Editor: Juan Manuel Figueroa

No rating, 93 minutes

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