REVIEW: DVD Release: Timecrimes

Film: Timecrimes
Release date: 4th May 2009
Certificate: 15
Running time: 88 mins
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernández, Bárbara Goenaga, Nacho Vigalondo, Juan Inciarte
Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery/Thriller
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Spain

Shorts writer/director Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes tackles the theme of time travel in an ambitious debut feature that's part sci-fi, part horror and part noir.

While he and his wife move into their new country house, Hector notices a girl standing naked in the distance. He ventures to investigate but, after finding himself attacked by a man whose face is obscured by bandages, Hector is left running for his life.

Evading the man, Hector takes refuge in a mysterious silo where he is prompted to enter a machine which sends him backwards through time, and links him more intrinsically to the trouble he was try to escape...

The economy with which Vigalondo tells (and retells) his story of a man stuck in a seemingly never-ending time loop is such that it comes of little surprise that he is a writer/director well-versed in the plotting and execution of short films. Timecrimes is nothing if not concise, allowing for the story to zip along, greased by a careful but witty implementation of consistent key images deftly linking together each rehashing of the story, rather than lengthy expositional dialogue - something which, it could be argued, impedes its fellow small-budgeted, time travel-themed contemporary Primer.

Unlike Primer, Timecrimes never sets out to be a deep, theoretical exploration of the connotations of time interloping. But while it does not explore the implications of this quite so deeply in the scientific sense, the film is anything but dim-witted, and does an outstanding job of harnessing the theme of time travel to venture into the exploration of its effects on the protagonist's emotional - as opposed to intellectual - stability.

Vigalondo (also appearing in the film) handles Hector's journey(s) through time with a deliberate sensitivity towards the character's helplessly altering mindset - at first meek and a little too curious for his own good but, by the end, confident in his ability to control the future and those involved (or not) in it. The more detached from the immediate reality Hector allows himself to become, the more chillingly manipulative he grows, conducting his own path through the recreation of events, as well as those of the people he meets along the way, and eventually devolving into an ugly, brutish predator as he does all he can to return to his old life. Karra Elejalde portrays this transformation with a beleaguered fragility, allowing the journeys through time to bend Hector's mind and send askew the morality his initial attempts to help the stranded girl suggests he was once quite in touch with.

In Timecrimes, we are witness to a cinematic rarity: a film which, despite being based around a sole protagonist, is distinctly portmanteau in nature. Although the lead character is played by the same actor, there is no doubting that every time Hector emerges from the time machine in which he initially hides to avoid the bandaged man, he returns a different person, with a different motivation and involved in a very different take on the same story. Almost multiple short films in one, Vigalondo's ingenious application of fingerprints and signs from the future left for Hector's discovery not only serve to link together the stories but also nourish Hector's appreciation of the situation and that of the viewer, who is at all times kept in pace with the protagonist. Never are you allowed to be slack in your following of events, but neither are you granted a chance to foresee any more than Hector himself, who, with his desperate determination, and at times dizzyingly self-referential behaviour, keeps himself in the driving seat - something consistent throughout his multiple incarnations.

Multiple prophecies self-fulfilling, the series of events engineered by the man desperate to re-establish himself within his own life are on occasion bogglingly abstract, with Hector, at times, not completely knowing why he is performing a certain task, but trusting in the necessity of repeating it in the way exactly as it happened in the past in order to sustain his original reality's equilibrium. The logic is bizarre but never illogical within the realm of the movie, which maintains a straightforward complexity: Hector does what he does because it happened, and it happens because he did it. With this mentality, Vigalondo has on his hands a film which shows rather than tells, playful in its exploration of time travel but never straying from the rules of storytelling it sets itself - even as Hector has to break his own, leading to a tantalising climax. An ending made all the more breathtaking by the fact that the viewer has had the chance to develop for themselves a foresight in tune with that of Hector, whose transformation from mild-mannered husband to swollen-faced, almost indifferent puppet-master reaches a sickening conclusion.

A lovingly-crafted film, Timecrimes is not the most ambitious of time travel-themed movies, but within its formula exists a witty, devious romp, which succeeds in being more emotionally than intellectually involving. A delightfully satisfying debut showing from Vigalondo. DWS

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