‘Faces in the Crowd (Los Ingrávidos)’ review
Time Out says
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This dazzling adaptation of Valeria Luiselli’s magical realist novel rewards intense viewing
A woman now living in Mexico City tries to tell us about her youth working as a translator in America, but struggles to pull the story together as the duties of motherhood distract her. A translator in New York is trying to persuade the editor of the obscure publishing house where she works to put out a translation of Mexican author Gilberto Owen’s poems – but he’s only interested in ‘the next Bolaño’. In New York, a Mexican poet named Owen describes his final years.
‘Faces in the Crowd’, adapted by director Ellen McDougall from the novel by Valeria Luiselli (translated by Christina MacSweeney), is a thrilling tangle of unreliable narration, coincidences and half-truths. It opens – and indeed remains – in a family dining room. A broad grey table dominates the space, displaying a baby monitor, a cassette player and a large model of a white house. The ‘narrator’, as we might describe the mother in Mexico City (an electrifying Jimena Larraguivel), is trying to tell us a ‘fiction’ about her experiences when she was younger – when she was, in fact, the translator her book is going to be about. Her words are constantly interrupted by the chatter of her young son and a baby crying in the next room; her husband barely helps, busy as he is staring at the architectural model of the house.
It becomes clear her ‘fiction’ wavers in and out of truth. The husband is sometimes asked to do the voices of characters but occasionally halts the storytelling, flummoxed, when he realises his wife is inaccurately narrating his own role in the present day. An emotionally fraught Harlem flatshare from the past is enacted on the kitchen table, no more or less real than the young child playing hide-and-seek behind the audience in the present. Ghosts throng the room, though there are only four performers. Voices overlap. Storylines overlap.
‘Faces in the Crowd’ rewards engaged viewing; it is dazzling, but its dazzle can feel confused and inchoate if attention is allowed to slip for longer than a line of dialogue. But humour and pathos crackle through this energetic script, an ambitious adaptation of an extraordinary novel.