The Motive

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Mobile
"It's as though Cuenta and his co-writer Alejandro Hernández spent so much of their energy on their impressive plot machinations that they have none left for developing his character, leaving Gutiérrez trying to work magic with just one note."

Manuel Martin Cuenta, who has long had a cool eye for a lonely guy in films including Half Of Oscar and Cannibal, returns to the theme with an archly satirical tone in his latest film. Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez who British audiences are most likely to remember from thriller Marshlands) is short in stature and on talent. A notary in a cramped office, his days are accompanied by a constant drone of conversation from his colleague, punctuated only by the squeak of a fan.

Despite being desperate to pen a novel of high literature (it's unlikely Álvaro would see himself doing anything so cheap as 'writing'), he is in the shadow of his wife, who already has a successful page-turner to her name - a fact that everyone from his writing teacher (Antonio de la Torre, enjoying himself immensely in a rare comedy role) to his co-workers is constantly reminding him of. When he is forced to take leave from his job and discovers his wife is having an affair in short measure, Álvaro sees it as the moment to make or break his career - and possibly his life- moving into an apartment block.

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After being berated for not keeping things 'real' in his class, Álvaro views the move to his new flat as an opportunity and begins to treat many of the block's other occupants as characters, just waiting to be manipulated. Drawing on information from the building supervisor (Adelfa Calvo, stealing every scene she is in), coaxed out of her via increasing amounts of attention, he also insinuates himself into the life of his elderly, borderline fascist neighbour, who has some not-so carefully guarded secrets, and starts recording arguments between his Mexican near neighbours Enrique (Tenoch Huerta) and Irene (Adriana Paz), whose kitchen conversations play out within earshot of his bathroom.

Cuenta presents everything connected to Álvaro as tabula rasa - his house contains barely any furniture, all of it white, while his mind is only focused on his next act of manipulation rather than considering the position that he find himself in him. His single-minded approach contrasts with the cluttered lives of everyone else in the block, with Cuenta making sure we're aware of every china dog and religious icon watching over his entreaties to the sexually frustrated supervisor. Cuenta's command of visuals continues to impress as he floods Álvaro's apartment with light or creates a shadowplay of the Mexicans' conversations on the wall, with even the credits sequence a minimalist triumph. But he never quite settles in term of tone and his approach to the Álvaro is too clinical. While the early scenes are sprightly with humour, gradually infiltrated by tension as we realise that Álvaro cares about nothing except getting words up on the page, Álvaro himself remains too opaque.

It's as though Cuenta and his co-writer Alejandro Hernández spent so much of their energy on their impressive plot machinations that they have none left for developing his character, leaving Gutiérrez trying to work magic with just one note. It's the ultimate of ironies that Cuenca, in the end, appears to care less about his characters than his protagonist, giving us the perfect look but not the feel.

Reviewed on: 24 Sep 2017
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The Motive packshot
A man obsessed with writing a book, starts to manipulate his neighbours.

Director: Manuel Martín Cuenca

Writer: Javier Cercas, Alejandro Hernández, Manuel Martín Cuenca

Starring: Antonio de la Torre, Javier Gutiérrez, María León, Tenoch Huerta, Adriana Paz, Adelfa Calvo, Carmelo Muñoz Adame, Miguel Ángel Luque, Domi del Postigo, Rafael Téllez

Year: 2017

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: Spain

Festivals:

SSFF 2017

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