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Bad Actor (Un Actor Malo)

A handsome, prosperous actor has to answer for his inappropriate actions in this strong but uneven drama - from the Official Selection of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


Mexican thespian Daniel Zavala (Alfonso Dosal) seems to have it all. He has a gorgeous wife, a baby he adores, and Robert Rodriguez wants him for his next film. Daniel seems to be enjoying his job as an actor, and is working with Sandra (Fiona Palmo) on an erotic thriller where they play stepchild and stepparent. Their chemistry is infectious, and they joke about filming the sex scenes “for real”. Things seem to be going well on the shoot, but the director notices a subtle change in Sandra’s expression during an intimate scene. Sandra seems bothered, and won’t speak to anyone. It’s only when the crew leaves the set that Sandra confesses her discontentment to two co-workers. She’s been raped by her co-star.

Daniel is furious to hear the accusation – he is, he insists, a happily married man. He calls in his lawyer, who questions the legitimacy of the evidence; a tape of a simulated love scene. The director is dubious too: why didn’t Sandra scream during the take? Things take a dicier turn when it’s discovered that someone has leaked the footage of the supposed rape online, and Daniel fears for the safety of his wife and child.

The movie does not use suspense as a device. That’s because we know from the outset that Daniel is guilty of assault. Nobody, not even Daniel’s lawyer, is convinced by his version of the events, which is a crying shame because the film definitely tries to sell himself off as a victim of an unjust accusation. Director Jorge Cuchi makes a curious decision to shift gears during the final third, throwing in a car chase that closes with vehicular carnage. At one point Daniel tries to herd off a gang of angry female protestors who are out for his blood, a complete tonal shift from what has been a compelling and fairly adult lo-fi drama.

Palmo, understandably, has the toughest gig of the cast. She has to play an abused woman who has her integrity questioned by not one, but two, lawyers. The questions are pointed: “Why didn’t you say something?” “Why didn’t you object?” “Ask for help…” The stress is palpable, and Palmo is brilliant. Yes, she spends the majority of the film in floods of tears, but we never get the sense that Fiona is weak or unsure of herself. From the beginning she insists that it is her solemn duty to report Daniel to the local authorities – for no one’s elses piece of mind but her own.

Dosal isn’t so lucky with the script.There’s no denying his talent (pleasantly reminiscent of a young Robert De Niro in Martin Scosese’s Taxi Driver, 1976, at times), but as the reveal is pulled almost immediately, it makes it harder to believe the sincerity of his statements. The director makes the curious decision to produce a film without a soundtrack, in an effort to bring viewers closer to the heart of the film. But a score would help illustrate some of the themes of the movie, offering viewers a gateway into the drama. More jarringly, the camera work is often pedestrian.There’s a lot of close-ups and fade-outs, but very few wide angles. If the intention was to film the work in a naturalistic setting, it falls far short of the holistic mark. Dosal, thrown into the middle of the camera lens, is regularly forced to throw out a series of garbled facial expressions, in a last ditch effort to muster some sympathy from the viewers.

But he too gets his moment to shine. It’s when Daniel meets Sandra, on the pretence that no lawyer or audio interfere with their conversation. He reminds her of the vulnerable child he holds, asking her to absolve them both in the name of the younger generation. It’s a powerhouse moment from Dosal, who really delivers here as a man drowning under the weight of his shame.

Bad Actor just premiered in the Official Selection of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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