Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer and Director: Julio Torres

Getting the job you want when you weren’t born in a country is increasingly difficult with changes to visa regulations and never more so than in the US where aspiring toymaker Alejandro loses his job and therefore sponsorship. Julio Torres’ new film Problemista is an enjoyable satire about America’s befuddling immigration system and the relative value of the creative industries that remains deliberately obscure.

With only a month to find new sponsorship before he is deported and not allowed to earn money in that time despite being required to pay legal fees, a chance encounter with eccentric art critic Elizabeth offers Alejandro his only possibility of remaining in the US and joining toymaker firm Hasbro. But Elizabeth’s confrontational manner and determination to stage a solo show for her cryogenically frozen lover, give Alejandro a mountain to climb before his future can be secured.

Problemista is a very smart film looking at convoluted political processes through a heightened lens which prevents the issues that Torres discusses from becoming overly po-faced. It has a time limit too that drives the actions as the reticent central character bumbles his way through a series of comic scenarios and money-making ideas while the occasional slip into outright fantasy through Alejandro’s mother designing cityscapes and sinister Craigslist (an American Gumtree) figure finding adverts for Alejandro to answer add just the right levity to the story.

The substance here is a growing relationship between the exacting Elizabeth who turns everything into a fight and the too timid Alejandro who never retaliates. It is too pat to say they learn from one another and become better people, they don’t, but learn to rub along. And there are some entertaining observed running jokes including Elizabeth’s obsession with an out-of-date archiving software and her obsession with the egg paintings that become the focus of the exhibition Alejandro is hired to facilitate.

Torres’ Alejandro is very sweet, perplexed by New York and unable to articulate his own needs but nonetheless a sympathetic lead whose scrapes motor the drama. The physicality of Torres’ performance with Alejandro’s modest shuffle is matched by the mercurial interpretation of Elizabeth played with relish and an unexpected West Country accent by Tilda Swinton who consumes entire scenes with one bite.

A touch of Yorgos Lanthimos meets David Cronenberg and sometimes Wes Anderson, Problemista picks up threads it forgets to cycle back to including Alejandros’ relationship with his lawyer that offers an alternative solution to his plight, an intern that comes between the young toymaker and Elizabeth while the scenes of Alejandro’s flatmates lead nowhere. But this 105-minute film suggests that artistic and human value are equally mysterious, and it is only through a little creativity that either are able to progress.

Problemista is released on digital platforms from 8 July.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Sweetly perplexed

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The Reviews Hub - Film

The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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