‘Evilness’ (‘La Maldad’): Berlin Review

An aesthetically potent experimental feature with more style than story

Mexican filmmaker Joshua Gil’s debut premiered in Berlin’s Forum sidebar

An experimental narrative whose transfixing aesthetics compensate for an almost nonexistent story, Evilness (La Maldad) marks a promising if enigmatic feature debut from cinematographer turned director Joshua Gil. Set in the breathtaking plains surrounding Mexico City and tracking the final days of an elderly man stricken with terminal cancer, the movie works best as an abstract contemplation on life, death and the passing of time, recalling the more conceptual work of fellow Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas (who’s thanked in the end credits). Overseas prospects will remain limited to fests, cinematheques and a handful of daring distributors.

Opening with a beguiling fixed shot of a field erupting into flames at the crack of dawn, Evilness begins with a harbinger of what’s to come, before scaling back into more tranquil waters as it follows the wanderings of 81-year-old Rafael Gil Moran. Through seemingly improvised conversations with a local friend (Raymundo Delgado Munoz) and one brief visit to the hospital, we learn that Rafael doesn’t have much time to live, while the introduction of a .22 pistol forebodes a violent ending.

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But Gil is less interested in building a narrative than in using his craft to create a visceral cinematic experience – one that may turn away viewers looking to get hooked by any sort of plot, and who may find Evilness to be more a question of tediousness. Yet with DP Cesar Salgado capturing the Puebla and Tlaxcala locations in beautiful naturally lit compositions, and sound designer Sergio Diaz (Heli) providing a layered, atmospheric audio track, the film functions as an artful piece de resistance where you can sit back, watch, listen and get sucked into the natural solitude.

Things nonetheless take a curious turn in the closing reels when Rafael packs up and heads to Mexico City, where he walks the streets and rides the subway, eventually heading to… the Mexican Film Institute – in a sequence that could almost play out as comic if it weren’t so remotely sad. While the loaded gun in Rafael’s bag creates some underlying tension during these late scenes, the filmmakers avoid a gory finale by turning their camera on demonstrations that took place during the 2012 presidential elections. It doesn’t quite wrap up the story, whatever that story really is, but it provides one final thrilling blast of noise, protest, color and darkness. ¿Por que no?

Production companies: Perro Negro Cine, Parabola
Cast: Rafael Gil Moran, Raymundo Delgado Munoz
Director, screenwriter: Joshua Gil
Producers: Fabiola De La Rosa, Joshua Gil
Director of photography: Cesar Salgado
Production designer: Guillermo Vidal
Editors: Leon Felipe Gonzalez, Joshua Gil
Composer: Galo Duran
Sound designer: Sergio Diaz

No rating, 74 minutes