Judge Joel Pearce was severely weirded out by this Spanish psycho-horror nightmare.
Desire can be deadly.
Fausto 5.0 is inspired by Dr. Faustus, but it feels more like the bastard child of Mulholland Dr. and Seven. Unfortunately, it lacks the quality of any of these inspirations, and becomes muddled almost beyond description. Despite these problems, it has some of the best art direction I have ever seen. Fox has released this as part of its Cinema Latino series, with an excellent transfer but nothing in the way of special features.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Fausto (Miguel Ángel Solá) runs a clinic that specializes in terminal patients. He is constantly surrounded by death and failure, but he also has a touch that allows him to save some patients that should be dead. While traveling to a medical convention, he runs into one such patient named Santos Vella (Eduard Fernández). Santos promises the doctor anything he could wish for, which begins a twisted series of events that dig deep into the spoken and unspoken desires of Fausto. As his wishes are fulfilled, stranger and more frightening things begin to happen.
The phrase "inspired by" can mean any number of things. In this case, I think it means that this film has few real connection points to Marlowe's famous play, but the makers of the film were inspired by the play's analysis of the darker side of human nature. In Fausto 5.0, however, that analysis takes a very different shape. While the original tale was a moral lesson about ambition, the film focuses more on our tendency to dwell on terrible desires and wishes, which would make the world a terrible place if they began to come true.
Certainly, in this case, Dr. Fausto does not ask for these dreams to start coming true. He is a kind man, if cold, that wants nothing to do with Santos when they first meet. It is only after Santos starts to prove his ability to make these desires come to life that Fausto is willing to take a trip through the dark side of his nature. Unfortunately, this is handled somewhat poorly over the course of the film. For this to work well, we would need to see the mundane life of Fausto at the beginning, followed by a believable and appealing offering of his desires, followed by a gradual trip into hell that he would not be able to escape. Instead of doing this, directors Álex Ollé, Isidro Ortiz, and Carlos Padrisa decided to create the whole film in a nightmare world. The scene in the clinic at the beginning is ugly and otherworldly, and the rest of the film is just as unsettling and disturbing. Because of this, there is no real starting point for the audience to connect with Fausto. This could mean that he is somewhat evil to begin with, or it could mean that something about being around death so much has begun to kill him.
Now, it's not that I mind some ambiguity here and there in films. This is the reason that I drew a comparison between this film and Mulholland Dr. The latter worked well because it felt like it should fit together somehow, but was always a little bit elusive, dancing just out of reach. Fausto 5.0 is just as elusive, but it is not crafted well enough that I ever felt like there was anything to understand. It isn't compelling because it never feels like there is any truth to be discovered. It seems to take place in the future, but there is no explanation for that, or reason why it would be. It never becomes clear who Santos Villa is, or the significance of his power.
The other massive problem with the film is in its pacing. There are a few moments where the film kicks into high gear, with these nightmarish montages of the images in Fausto's head. However, the rest of the film moves so slowly that it gets downright dull, which is a bad idea for a psychological thriller. Just at the moments when the film should accelerate to some kind of climax, it slows down and lumbers along with bland dialogue scenes that confuse issues even more.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Conceptual issues aside, there are some pleasures to be found in this grim thriller. The art direction, editing, and cinematography are some of the most gruesome and fascinating that I have ever seen. The world of nightmare that the film creates doesn't make much sense, but it is always dark, disturbing, and ugly. This doesn't redeem the problems of the film, but fans of psychological horror and this kind of visuals may want to check it out just for the art design.
As well, the film doesn't have to make sense in order to raise questions about power and corruption. As his wishes become fulfilled and he is able to do more things, Fausto immediately moves towards more horrible and immoral things. Why is it that we wish for things that we cannot and should not have? Why is Fausto so easily trapped by the young girl at the party? Why does he wish for the freedom to break and destroy things? At the same time, there is a part of all of us that dream and imagine things that we know should never come to pass. Fausto 5.0 exists in a world where everyone has these wishes fulfilled. Maybe a world like that could never be understood and could never make sense.
The film is bolstered by several excellent performances. Miguel Ángel Solá is subtle and effective as Fausto, beginning with cold detachment but becoming more and more frantic as the film goes on. Eduard Fernández is much less subtle as Santos, but he has the charismatic appeal that is required to make his role effective. The smaller roles are also well cast and played, every bit as garish and bizarre as the backdrops and cinematography.
Fox has also done an admirable job with the technical transfer of the film. The video is very good, with a small amount of dirt on the print and good reproduction of color and black levels. The audio transfer is even better, reaching a level of immersion that I don't think I have ever witnessed before. Even in scenes of dialogue, there are constant noises rippling through the sound field. The soundtrack is made up of mostly ambient noises and beats constantly in the background.
Unlike the audio and video transfers, Fox didn't do such a great job in the extras department. There are none, not even a trailer. I would have been fascinated to get a chance to hear the cast and crew talk about the film, how they drew inspiration from the original story in order to fashion this film.
It's hard to know whether to recommend Fausto 5.0 to anyone. It does have a great transfer and some of the most impressive visual and audio design I have ever seen. However, an absolute mess of a story, some really boring sections, and a few scenes that push the lines of appropriateness make me hesitate to recommend it too strongly. Stiff-stomached fans of bizarre psychological horror may want to give it a rental, but the complete lack of extras keeps it from warranting a blind buy.
The court remains undecided about Fausto 5.0. I will therefore place it on probation, and hope to never see it in my courtroom again.
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