'Much Ado About Nothing' ('Aqui no ha pasado nada'): Sundance Review

Much Ado About Nothing still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Much Ado About Disinterested Youngsters.

The latest feature from Chilean director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras (Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner 'To Kill A Man') is headlined by 'Nasty Baby' star Agustin Silva.

A young man who believed he was just drunkenly making out in the backseat of a car belonging to a friend's friend finds himself accused of a fatal hit-and-run in the Chilean drama Much Ado About Nothing (Aqui No Ha Pasado Nada). Writer-director Alejandro Fernandez Almendras — credited on-screen as AFA, as if the whole film were a graffiti doodle — returns to Sundance two years after his To Kill A Man won the Grand Jury Prize with this second part in his projected trilogy about justice, which focuses on “justice” for the rich, as the middle-class protagonist is blamed for a crime he did not commit because a wealthy and influential politician doesn’t want his offspring to go to jail.

Festivals should again line up for this Sundance World Dramatic Competition entry, though the film’s commercial prospects might be hampered by the fact the film slides from a pleasingly raw and almost documentary-like retelling of the facts — it’s based on a very recent true story — into filmmaking that’s more mannered, which drains the proceedings of much of the immediacy that made for such compelling viewing.

Firstly, to clear up any confusion, Almendras isn’t turning into his Argentinean colleague Matias Pineiro, whose films riff on works by Shakespeare. Rather, the title tries to render in English the double meaning of the original Spanish, which literally translates as “Nothing has happened here,” but which is an expression that can be used to try and redirect attention away from something.

When we first meet laid-back twentysomething Vicente (Agustin Silva), at the tail end of summer, he seems to lead an enviably lazy and careless life. With his bronzed skin, sensual doe eyes and something between a stubble and a scruffy beard, it’s easy for him to catch someone’s eye on the beach and be invited to impromptu house parties nearby.

At one of these gatherings, he falls in with Francisca (Geraldine Neary) and Ana (Isabella Costa), two girls who are casual girlfriends. They also both flirt with Vicente in separate conversations, which leads to that fateful shared car ride during which a very intoxicated Vicente finds himself wedged between the girls in the back seat while some friends of theirs are driving to the next celebration. He’s finally dropped off home late at night before being woken up just hours later, when his supposed party buddies ask him to accompany them to the police for “some stuff”.

By then, audiences already know the car hit something during the night, while Vicente was busy in the back seat, but the police — no-doubt inspired by a smooth-talking lawyer from the actual driver — immediately try to pin what turns out to have been a fatal accident on the protagonist, which is where the real nightmare for Vicente begins.

For the lengthy set-up, which will later be examined and re-examined from all sides, AFA uses a jerky handheld style and ominous music choices that immediately throw audiences into the thick of things. This is the film’s strongest section, with an immediacy that’s instantly gripping, even if it isn’t clear yet — at least for non-Chileans unfamiliar with the facts — where the story might be headed.

Especially visually, things calm down somewhat as the police investigation gets underway, with Vicente being questioned and then trying to build a case to defend his innocence with help from his lawyer uncle, Julio (Alejandro Goic), who was called in by his worried-sick mother (Paulina Garcia, from Gloria and Ira Sachs’s Little Men).

There’s a late-in-the-game conversation on a deserted, summer-is-now-clearly-over beach between Vicente and an oily lawyer, Barria (Luis Gnecco), who represents the bullish politician whose son was actually driving when they hit the victim. The scene should be spine-chilling, and Gnecco is imposing and the dialogues are well-written. But by this point in t he film, it has become hard to care about the clearly innocent Vicente’s fate, since the film has made a point of insisting on how uncommitted and even indifferent his entire generation is to everything.

Vicente and his whiny on-off girlfriend — first seen only as the source of text messages on-screen before she actually materializes about halfway through — have by now sort-of called it quits, though not because he was fooling around with two girls when she didn’t show for the party that night. And the two sort-of girlfriends, whose testimony seems to have been easily bought (off-screen) by Barria, also seem not all that into either each other or Vicente. 

Indeed, it becomes clear that the twentysomething lead and his peers don’t seem willing, ready or even interested in committing to anything, which makes it hard for audiences to care about what happens to any of them. Combined with the fact that Almendras’ filmmaking becomes more mannered in the second half, with frequent on-screen texts that supplement the action and people facing the camera directly during their depositions, this creates a significant distancing effect that makes it even harder to get a sense of the characters’ emotions. It’s here that the first meaning of the title comes back to haunt the proceedings; why should audiences care about apparently careless people who are falsely accused of anything?

Production companies: Jirafa, Brisa Films, Arizona Productions, Motivo Films

Cast: Agustin Silva, Paulina Garcia, Alejandro Goic, Luis Gnecco, Daniel Alcaino, Samuel Landea, Augusto Schuster

Director: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras

Screenplay: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Jeronimo Rodriguez

Producers: Augusto Matte, Pedro Fontaine

Executive producers: Felipe Aichele, Gregory Costa, Ilan Numhauser

Co-producers: Maja Zimmeramann, Guillaume de Seille

Director of photography: Inti Briones

Production designer: Valentina Silva

Costume designer: Tamara Letelier

Editors: Soledad Salfate, Alejandro Fernandez Almendras  

Casting: Samuel Vicuna

Sales: Film Factory Entertainment

No rating, 94 minutes