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Me and the Beasts (Las Bestia y Yo)

Venezuelan drama investigates the crippling desire to create a world of destruction, and the power of music in a damaged world - from the 76th Locarno Film Festival


Shot, written and directed by Venezuelan film director and music composer Nico Manzano, Me & the Beasts, 2023 concerns the turmoil and disillusion of indie rock musician Andrés Bravo (Jesus Nunes) as he navigates personal ambition, inspiration, and creativity against the backdrop of the 2017 Venezuelan constitutional crisis, the country’s socioeconomic situation, and subsequent protests that erupted in its wake.

The film begins with a disagreement between members of an alt-rock band. Andrés, the band’s guitarist and singer leaves the band in a huff and contemplates a new musical project with a female friend who declines his offer because she, like many young middle-class Venezuelans, plans to leave the country as word of political unrest spreads. Itching to make music, even though his country is on the precipice of collapse, he takes a month off from his full-time job as a lab technician in Caracas, rents a condo on the coast, and begins recording a solo record. It is here that Andrés is joined by two strange musical entities, presumably the creatures of the film’s title. Draped head to toe in yellow headdresses with decorative threads that cover their faces, the two unnamed and mysterious figures (played by Gael Gaviota and Eduardo Bol) contribute to the creation of Andrés musical exploration and silently comfort his fears and apprehensions about the future.

After a month of freedom and creation by the beachfront, Andrés heads back to Caracas and to the realisation that his world is moving on without him. His friends are leaving and his former bandmates have scored a viral hit. Worse still, a months’ worth of recorded music has been lost in a hard drive malfunction. He is completely untethered.

Manzano’s debut feature is a gorgeous study of the crippling desire to create in a world of destruction. Thanks to the Pentax K-Mount vintage lenses that Manzano uses to capture Andrés’s journey, the film is bathed in a subdued and washed-out hue of pastel blues, pinks, greens, and reds that in some of the longer still shots take on the feel of a sparse abstract expressionist painting. It is beautiful. While it might be tempting to explore the chaos of a country in crisis with jarring, fast, and loud imagery, sound, and editing techniques, Manzano keeps his camera still, making it linger with long meditative drawn-out scenes with little movement or distraction. While the imagery is beautiful, the sound of the film is another factor that awards the viewer with a sense of deep immersion. When not being treated to the gorgeous musical compositions that dot the film throughout, the sound of birdsong, gentle crashing waves, and swaying tree branches fills the space in-between. It’s a film as an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) experience. Like being rolled up in a bubble that blocks out the outside world. It feels good.

And maybe that is Manzano’s point. The political turmoil Venezuela was facing at the time of filming acts only as background information. It never overwhelms the narrative. Only the occasional power cut, encounter with a corrupt cop, and casual conversation acknowledges the unfolding unrest. To Andrés it might as well not be happening at all. The character lives so much within his own bubble that he presumably manifests his creativity as two yellow draped figures who only he can see and interact with.

It’s telling that those two figures disappear when Andrés returns to Caracas and faces the reality of a busted hard drive (caused by a power surge) that contains all his recordings. With everything, and everyone gone it falls to Andrés alone to begin again with reduced ambitions and a more carefree attitude. The film’s finale is not a big and grand musical concert that might occur in other music-oriented films, but an intimate performance in front of a handful of young people in what looks like a hipster coffee shop. Andrés finds the sweet spot of living a fulfilling life with his creative drive running parallel. It no longer overwhelms him and, quite literally in the final frames of the film, his creativity takes a backseat. A powerful metaphor.

When watching this Me and the Beasts, there are echoes of other films that concern the creation of art for art’s sake that one can’t ignore. Most obviously Patterson, Jim Jarmusch’s 2016 movie that followed the life of a working-class bus driver (Adam Driver) who also writes poetry and is happy to contemplate his life from behind the steering wheel of a city bus while also engaging in an internal creative life. He seeks no recognition and actively avoids it where possible. Though the class circumstances are different, Andrés learns a similar lesson that day to day activities and creativity can go hand in hand, and a fruitful artistic life exists even within everyday mundanity. The musical interludes in which Andrés and his conjured-up band mates perform recalls those deeper moments within Bo Burnham’s 2021 comedy special Inside in which immersion in the creation of art is at its most full and all-encompassing headfuckery. The lighter moments recall Frank (Lenny Abrahamson, 2014) a film about a secretive masked singer (based on elusive British musician Frank Sidebottom) whose music exists within his head and must erupt out or complete mental collapse is inevitable.

There are also two documentaries about the overwhelming power of music on one’s mental health that should be mentioned. Dig! (Ondi Timoner, 2004), which follows the dual fates of the American bands The Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM even gets a nod in the film as an influence on Andrés’s music) and The Devil and Daniel Johnson (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2006). Bothfollow real-world performers who place their own mental wellbeing on the line in order to make something that connects to the listener in extraordinary ways while not always commercially viable or with mass appeal. In the case of BJM the drive destroys them in often humorous and excessive ways befitting a big dumb rock and roll band. In the case of folk artist Daniel Johnson, his desire and downfall is utterly heartbreaking.

Art, and its creation is often a place to hide within when the world goes topsy-turvy. Manzano exemplifies this perfectly. His protagonist Andrés hides himself away from the unrest that grips his country. He has no desire to participate in the unrest or offer much comment. Though he is alone, his imaginary band mates indicate a desire for companionship. On the audience side of things, it is easy to immerse oneself within the comfort this film offers both within the gorgeous visual and audible elements and the narrative itself. To hide away from our own personal and societal troubles for a short time. The film is life-affirming without being saccharine. Political without being preachy. Challenging yet comforting. Personal yet ultimately universal. A movie to experience.

Me and the Beasts just showed at the 76th Locarno Film Festival, in the Open Doors Screenings section.

By Steve Naish - 08-08-2023

Stephen Lee Naish (he/him) is a writer and visual artist whose work explores film, politics, and popular culture. He often examines political undercurrents present in films and their potential for soc...

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