Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Film Review: Ana Maria In Novela Land – a fantasy in more ways than one!

- By Uday Oak

Fantasy has been quite a popular genre in art, especially performing art. The children’s theater, and quite a bit of adult (not ‘adult’ adult; here ‘adult’ is an antonym of ‘children’s’) theater is full of it. The folk arts thrive on it.
And the art of the last century, cinema, has of course given it almost unlimited freedom – freedom in terms of audio, visual and time.
Most of the fantasies go in the sci-fi direction, or the king-queen-witch-demon way. Very few are ‘contemporary’, with a (near) believable storyline, enough layers in the script and sober visual presentation. In absence of all these, the fantasy films mostly focus on some character that is invisible, or someone who garners some equally such impossible power, and the resultant antics. Coolie to CEO or Maid to Millionaire. Yes, it is humor, although of juvenile/infantile nature.
There are very few films that one comes across, which do NOT fall in this trap.
Ana Maria In Novela Land is certainly one such. The storyline is simple, interesting and layered. The casting is as perfect as it could get. And visually, it’s a treat.
Tele-Novelas (Spanish tele-serials) have everything that any popular Hindi/Marathi tele-serials have – implausible situations, characters with infinite libido and zero regard for familial morals/ethics, zero reference to the outside ‘real’ world…
Ana Maria is a twenty-something young girl, staying with her parents, and like the hippies of the sixties, busy in ‘trying to find herself’. Getting and losing jobs is quite a natural phenomenon according to her. She is more keen on posting her learned comments about a Novela “Pasión Sin Limites” (Passion Without Limits), because she has a lot of ‘followers’ on the net. Her parents are worried about her, but they also enthusiastically watch that Novela.
And at a moment when the ‘tension’ is quite palpable in the Novela as well as in the household, Ann Maria is transported to replace Ariana, the leading lady of the Novela. Ariana replaces Ana in the family.
And the fun begins. Revealing any more of the story would be idiotic and sadistic. Let me just give you a pointer – the last half an hour is so full of twists and turns, that in comparison, the roads in Konkan would be ‘straight, frictionless surface’ so often referred to in Newtonian physics.
What sets this movie apart from countless other ‘fantasies’?
Firstly and most importantly, the script is not written pegging the audience with IQ lower than room temperature in Alaska. That script is ‘written’ and is not ‘assembled’ is itself an achievement these days. And this script is not just written, it is well-written. The story progresses through revealing layers and layers of perceptions and events. It is not “A hits B, so B retaliates by hitting A’s daughter C” kind of dumbed down version of a story. What would be the ‘differences’ perceived by characters in a Novela when in ‘real’ world and vice-versa is suggested beautifully, not given in ‘step-by-step do-it-yourself-guide’ manner.
Sample this – X, a character from Novela comes out in the real world, finds that she has a sister who is getting married. Her dialogue to sis – “I will be a good sister, and won’t sleep with your husband, though that is what normally all sisters do”. Or when X is diagnosed with amnesia, she says innocently “that is quite prevalent from where I come”. Or Y, a character from outside ‘real’ world goes in a Novela, is talking to a character from there, suddenly looks up and shouts “stop that, I can’t think while you are playing that”. And we realize that the background music is the usual mindless idiotic abortion of a background score, perennially used in serials.
The camera is unobtrusive, yet communicates almost effortlessly. No fancy angles, super-zoom lenses, weird lighting… The temptation to employ these technics must have been enormous – after all, half the story deals with a ‘Novela’, where such technics are the foundation stones and the whole building.
The actors really shine. Edy Ganem as the leading lady is fantastic. She was active mostly in television, barring a few minor/uncredited roles in films. Her ‘fresh’ness is absolutely delicious. The way she portrays two different characters is almost unbelievable. It would have been tempting to say “she carries the whole film on her shoulders”, but the other actors are equally good.
Nestor Serrano, who plays Ana’s father has delivered a gem of a performance. His acting can be used as a demonstration of how an actor should be.
Michael Steger is another find from the TV world. He portrays Tony with more élan than Armando, but that is because Armando, being a Novela character, is a flat, mono-dimensional one.
And Luis Guzman, who so far portrayed small-time lackeys, really shines here. His acting shows the shades of differences between characters in Novelas and in ‘real’ life.

Do you remember ‘Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour’? Chris Tucker’s Asian looking lady detective ‘girlfriend’ Tania Johnson? Here Elizabeth Pena has given a marvelous performance as Ana’s mother, matching Nestor Serrano in sensible (and believable) portrayal of a character from ‘real’ world. Sadly, Elizabeth died soon after this film was completed.
A couple of decades ago, ‘Pleasantville’ opened a window to the idea of real and ‘virtual’ characters mingling and the subsequent dizzying potpourri. ‘Ana Maria In Novela Land’ has taken it further, several levels up.

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