One of the great things about attending an international film festival is the opportunity to take a chance on films and filmmakers you're unfamiliar with. The most pleasant surprise for me at this year’s E.U. Film Fest was discovering the new Spanish film Magical Girl by the young writer/director Carlos Vermut. The film effortlessly combines tragedy and black comedy with crime thriller conventions involving blackmail, prostitution and murder. This assured second feature creates a narrative web-of-life that ensnares a diverse group of characters including a 12-year-old girl with leukemia, the father who will do anything to help her dying wishes come true, a yuppie housewife with a masochistic streak and an elderly ex-con inexorably drawn back into a life of crime.
Allegory abounds: The film’s major conflict arises between a retired math professor and a retired literature professor, literalizing Vermut’s central metaphor of Spain as an indecisive nation unsure of whether its essential character is primarily “rational” or “emotional,” and the best joke involves the housewife stashing money in a book about the Spanish Constitution in a public library (since no one will ever think to look there).
What really makes Magical Girl special, though, is the daringly elliptical but utterly confident way its various story fragments unfurl into one another. As in the best work of David Lynch, this is a narrative jigsaw puzzle whose tantalizing power arises precisely because of the missing pieces: The viewer must collaborate with the filmmakers in creating the ultimate meaning.
Magical Girl, which currently has no U.S. distributor, screens on Saturday, March 28, and Wednesday, April 1. More info can be found on the Siskel Center’s website.