The Sentimental Engine Slayer

The Sentimental Engine Slayer

***

Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

Barlam (Omar Rodriguez-Lopez) is a very troubled and sensitive early twentysomething man who collects models of Mercury Cougar American muscle cars. He's nervous around others, hopelessly antisocial, falls to pieces around women, is virginal and sexually frustrated. His ragtag collection of friends and family are no help with any of this. And he's falling into madness - fantasising about violence. He also may or may not be the perpetrator of several sexually motivated murders.

"The deprivation of not finding out what he wants, can drive a man into madness."

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The fragmented narrative makes a brief synopsis difficult. The film is a collection of well-handled scenes, very roughly joined together, jagged and misshapen. This makes following the story difficult, and while the attempt at putting the viewer in Barlam's mindset is occasionally effective, it is also frustrating and confusing. The ensemble performances are uniformly watchable, with several standouts. Barlam's sister Natalia (Tatiana Velazquez) - whose milkshake definitely brings all the boys to the yard - is a spunky and likeable presence. Barlam's boss, with the patience of a saint, takes the young man under his wing - and reveals the secrets to attracting women, much to the hilarity of his colleagues. He also has the best "first sexual encounter" speech I have ever heard in the movies.

The Sentimental Engine Slayer is very much of a certain time and place in a young man's life; the movie slips frequently into tone poems. They come complete with loquacious voice over work - the kind of florid nonsense prose that brings to mind half-baked adolescent poetry. One in particular is a parable about an archer shooting for the moon; an interesting, if flawed metaphor for the film's ambition.

It also boasts an excellent depiction of the very real feelings and crushing impotence of an anxiety attack - the sound design is key, and very effective. The feelings it stirs remind me of watching Don Hertzfeld's great "I am so proud of you" short film, as everything slips away from the protagonist.

Movies that could have been great are the most frustrating for a critic. I have a stack of "if only" points to make. If only the intrascene editing worked in creating a solid narrative, if only the rug wasn't repeatedly pulled out without being set-up, if only the ending provided some measure of closure, if only scenes ran their course, with no more or less than was needed. The frustrating part is that's all that's wrong with the film. Other than that, it's an excellent collection of individual scenes - with some daring and thoughtful observations about Catholic sexual guilt.

Additionally, writer/director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez gives us a sensational taste of his own talents in front of and behind the camera. His performance in the lead role is fantastic - mature and sensitive, and he has the kind of youthful face that most 35 year olds would kill for. Watch him carefully, and watch a masterclass of character immersion. Just as Barlem is struggling with his own identity, it's clear Lopez is trying to find himself as a filmmaker.

I can only hope that his next feature connects; the talent is obvious.

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2010
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The Sentimental Engine Slayer packshot
A lonely young man muses on murder.
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Festivals:

Tribeca 2010
EIFF 2010

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