'El Ganzo': Film Review

Courtesy of Dikenga Films
This intriguing but amorphous exercise never catches fire.

Two travelers forge an intense connection while staying at a Mexican resort in Steve Balderson's indie drama.

The latest effort from director Steve Balderson (Firecracker, Hell Town) continues this iconoclastic filmmaker's penchant for telling elliptical stories in an off-kilter fashion. Depicting the burgeoning friendship between two American travelers who meet at a Mexican resort hotel, El Ganzo is an intriguing but amorphous cinematic exercise whose lack of focus ultimately proves irritating.

The story opens with Lizzy (Susan Traylor) experiencing a minor traffic accident in the cab she's taking to the hotel. She immediately jumps out and continues the journey on foot, looking dazed. Shortly after arriving, she meets Guy (Anselm Richardson), a handsome, gay African-American who tells her he's a travel photographer on assignment. When Lizzy informs him that she's a travel magazine writer, it's hard to discern whether that's the truth or merely her way of ingratiating herself.

For the next view days, she continues to look dazed and exhibits odd behavior. She keeps asking the hotel's desk clerk (Mark Booker, who also composed the score) where her luggage is, even though she hadn't arrived with any. When, at one point she wants to know, "How much time do I have left?" it takes the clerk several moments to realize that she means at the hotel.

Meanwhile, Lizzy and Guy are becoming increasingly intimate, both emotionally and physically, even as Guy engages in a series of angry phone conversations with his lover at home.

Overall, the filmmaker seems more interested in establishing mood than advancing the narrative. He indulges in such intrusive devices as jarring edits that skip a beat or two, creating a feeling of disorientation. There's a loose, improvisatory feel to the proceedings, which is not surprising considering that the rambling screenplay is credited to not only the director but also the two lead performers, whose restrained performances keep us guessing about their enigmatic characters.

The film's saving grace is its picturesque setting. And knowing that the hotel and much of the surrounding area were practically destroyed by a hurricane a short time after filming imbues the shots with an unintended elegiac tone.

Production company: Dikenga Films
Cast: Susan Traylor, Anselm Richardson, Mark Booker
Director-editor: Steve Balderson
Screenwriters: Steve Balderson, Anselm Richardson, Susan Traylor
Producers: Steve Balderson, Jennifer Dreiling
Director of photography: Daniel G. Stephens
Composer: Mark Booker

Not rated, 89 minutes