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  • Writer's pictureAidan Fronza

Problemista (2023)

During a time of creative uncertainty with the threat of AI (artificial intelligence) looming over the film industry, Julio Torres' profoundly human Problemista explores the unique awkwardness of an aspiring toy designer and immigrant who desperately pursues his idea of the American dream (and obtain a work visa through a realistically frustrating process) with the complicated help of a difficult but loving art critic mourning the semi-loss of her artist husband when he decides to go to cryosleep after becoming terminally ill.

After barely getting into a showing at a local AMC, I was suprisied to find myself the only attendee in my theater. My shock only increased throughout the film's smooth 104 minute runtime as I thoroughly enjoyed its original premise. However, I too felt uncomfortably aware of the empty seats surrounding me. Torres, in his directorial debut - which he impressively also wrote and produced, in addition stars as the film's protagonist Alejandro. Obviously, such a feat is admirable in itself. However, I found myself most drawn to how Torres uniquely portrays Alejandro considering the leading-man stereotype of modern filmmaking. While most filmmakers' give their protagonist's carefully written flaws, protecting their "manliness" from an "excessive" amount of vulnerability, Torres' uses Alejandro as a reflection of many of our truest insecurities. That is, regardless of any physically defining characteristics in that manner. As such, I found myself relating to many of Ale's (short for Alejandro's) awkward mannerisms, social disconnect, and need to please despite the conflict he faces.

Although I am priveleged to not share the immigration crisis that Ale battles (which the film creatively and sensitively depicts as a corrupt system, retaining some humor to poke fun at its absurdnes with immigrants comically disappearing into thin air when their "time" runs out), his newfound confidence by the film's ending is inspiring. When Ale demands a job at his dream company after realizing his idea was stolen from his rejected application, his courage affected me in ways that AI could never.

It would be unfair not to mention that Ale's bravery was only transformed through his conflict with Tilda Swinton's supporting character Elizabeth. The two butt heads whilst attempting to fund an exhibition for her husband's egg-themed art. Swinton gives a aggressively charming performance as the "Karen"-esque critic of art (and of almost everything else in that manner) who Ale discovers can only be understood through his empathetic lens.

If nothing else, Problemista is worth a watch for Torres and Swinton's human performances, not to mention a curious extended cast. For me, this film was a reflection of my own awkwardness and anxiety, and watching it alone in an empty audience made me more aware of my insecurities for the better. Not only that, but it gave me more insight into the concerning lack of appreciation for original voices in today's society. More concerning in such an era of often groundbreaking artistic expression (to be fair, it was raining during my showing, still it seems such a shame).

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