If you find Judge Adam Arseneau another psychological black comedy about an architect gone mad with jealousy, he will give you a dollar. Also, the film has to be Argentinean.
Where love is scorned and architects dream.
A weird amalgamation of lighthearted humor and tense romantic thriller, Bottom Of The Sea is not exactly a black comedy…more like a slight shade of gray. Also, the film is Argentinean, which is, in of itself, a weird amalgamation of something funny and thrilling.
Facts of the Case
Ezequiel is a jealous man in his mid-20s. He has a beautiful girlfriend, Ana, but cannot stop worrying about her every second of the day. Who is she talking to? What is she doing? Why won't she return every single phone call he makes? He is an aspiring architect and amateur scuba diver, but lately spends all his waking energy fretting about his relationship with Ana, which seems to be on the rocks.
When Ana gets invited to a party at work and Ezequiel is not invited, he berates her for not bringing him along. He stops by her house to spend some time with her before she leaves the next day and finds her in a strange mood: distant, vacant and upset. Confused, he tries to apologize for his recent jealous behavior, but out of the corner of his eye, catches the sight of something odd…a man's shoe lying errant on the floor…and a hand slowly reaching from under the bed to retrieve it!
In a panic, he flees the apartment. Did he just see another man underneath her bed? Consumed with a manic combination of jealousy, rage and curiosity, he camps outside her apartment until he sees the perpetrator—a well-dressed, cocky, and arrogant business-suit type—get into an expensive car and drive away.
All other thoughts flee Ezequiel's mind but to follow the man. He tails him across town, dogging his every step, occasionally stopping to perform mischief on him, like hurling a bag of frozen peas at his car or smashing his taillights at a gas station. Ezequiel cannot quite bring himself to confront the man, but is entirely incapable of letting him out of his sight…at least, until he musters the courage to meet him head-on!
What a strange little film this is. Directed by Damián Szifron (creator of the hit Argentinean television show, Los Simuladores), Bottom Of The Sea is not as quirky as advertised, nor is it particularly thrilling or psychological. All the things it claims to be (a dark comedy, an offbeat thriller, a romantic drama, etc.) fail to materialize in any meaningful way. Instead, the film kind of takes tiny elements from each genre, and not necessarily the best ones, in order to make something oddly mediocre yet satisfying, as if somebody compressed all the paranoia out of Hitchcock's Rear Window and interjected it into a romantic comedy, but added just a twist of Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou for good measure.
This one definitely subverts the expectations. Where one expects the film to be romantic, it is paranoid and manic. Where the film should be paranoid, it is offbeat and wacky. Interjected between both states are references to scuba diving for no apparent reason. And that's pretty much it. Dialogue is minimal as the jealous boyfriend lurks in the shadows and tries to come to terms with his own paranoia and insecurity, with some quirky jokes thrown in along the way. After watching the film, I sort of shook my head a bit to clear the cobwebs, having no idea what the film was even about in the end. On the surface, the plot is overly simplistic and easy to follow, but one gets the uneasy sense that there is much of significance in Bottom Of The Sea, lingering just below the surface, always a step out of reach.
In retrospect, I suppose if the film has a central theme, it would be jealousy and maturity, and the total incompatibility of the two elements in Ezequiel's life. While encompassed by jealousy, his life has no meaning. He desires to be the solitary explorer (hence his fascination with the isolated elements of deep-sea exploration), but cannot stop himself from virtually stalking his girlfriend. He desires to be an architect and attends school to study it, which, coincidentally, is the same career his girlfriend has. When he realizes his girlfriend is unfaithful, he gains a sense of purpose and focus, but at the expense of common sense and maturity…following the man around and trying to light his car on fire (no, really). his internal conflict manifests through a series of events which he may or may not be responsible for, but which echo his own internal struggle, cumulating in the final confrontation and finale of the film. Sort of.
The ending, while not exactly as predictable as you may envision, can still be seen coming miles away and as such cannot be considered a "surprise" twist, as much as the film wants to pretend it has one. I understand the subtle expectation to see that kind of massively tricky or twisty ending, to see the events explained by a shattering of unrelated coincidences or terrible misunderstandings, because that is what we come to expect from our black comedies. I am not saying there isn't a surprise or two along the way; only that Bottom Of The Sea is not the kind of movie that would rely solely on a catch ending to fuel its engines. To illustrate this point, the movie continues on for a good 15 minutes past the point where you may have expected it to end, which is both irritating and uplifting; in that time, the film manages to shift itself completely upside down and become something positive and spiritually fulfilling. A cute trick if you can pull it off.
>From a presentation standpoint, the best part of Bottom Of The Sea is its wildly innovative and moving score, a jilting orchestra piece that croons, moans, croaks, and makes silly "beep beep" noises almost continuously throughout the film. The soundtrack has that Danny Elfman manic intensity quality to it, and absolutely comes to the rescue of the film, interjecting an intense feeling of claustrophobia, dread, and oddball amusement into sequences which would otherwise be dry and immobile. Two audio tracks, a stereo and a 5.1 track are included, both in Argentinean Spanish, and both with great bass response and clear dialogue. Ah, but the surround sound takes the cake and eats it, too. The innovative and energetic score is distributed to all five channels with excellent distribution, giving the entire film a feeling of life that is simply absent from the stereo mix. Highly recommended.
Compared to the audio, the video is not quite up to par, but this is probably a limitation of the source material. Presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the film has a noticeable amount of grain, but oddly enough during daylight sequences, especially in the white and beige tones. Night sequences have been shot with care, and black levels hold up surprisingly well. There is a small amount of print damage here and there, but nothing to get worked up about…all in all, a good-looking transfer for a relatively low-budget film.
Not much in the way of extras: a deleted scene and a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The biggest problem with Bottom Of The Sea is that it isn't particularly thrilling, funny, or romantic, which are the three things Bottom Of The Sea is advertised as being. So in a certain sense, the film fails outright. I mean, even the DVD cover—a darkly shadowed and ominous Ezequiel hunched menacingly in front of his car brandishing what looks like an axe—turns out to be misleading. The axe, in fact, is a T-shaped architect's ruler.
Admittedly, the film does possess a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps the viewer intrigued to see how the story resolves itself, but this journey takes a long time and comes at the expense of a certain level of disappointment. The viewer has to wade through a lot of boring sequences and oddly off-kilter jokes that fall flat, all through the oddly detached personage of a protagonist that doesn't particularly inspire loyalty or sympathy with the audience.
The biggest stumbling block to appreciate this film, I think, is that events play out so ambiguously that keeping a bearing on the moral center of the film becomes exceedingly difficult. Is this a happy or a sad film? Does the protagonist get what he wants, or lose it? I admire films like that, but I am not always sure I enjoy watching them.
I am fairly convinced that I liked Bottom Of The Sea, but I could be mistaken. Romantic comedy and rampaging paranoia are strange bedfellows, and it is hard to say whether or not the combination works well. But it certainly is interesting to watch them try.
On the surface a straightforward romantic thriller, the oddball sense of humor skews things just to the esoteric just enough to give Bottom Of The Sea an element of mysterious ambiguity, which both endears the film and irritates me simultaneously.
But if you like your thrillers quirky, this one is probably worth a look.
A tricky verdict…but not guilty.
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