Los Versos del Olvido aka Oblivion Verses, written and directed by Alireza Khatami
Audiences at the Beijing Film Festival loved this motion picture, which has won the audience Choice award there – and other prizes- for good reason, for it is thoughtful, is sad, worthwhile, complex and unusual.
The hero is a Morgue Caretaker, portrayed by a fantastic, elderly actor – if he is a professional performer- called Juan Margallo, who has very little – next to no information and no photo- on the most important site related to the Film Industry, IMDB.
The leading actor is so expressive and his face and attitude conveys so much emotion, feeling, other worldly intensity that just watching may make the public think of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and other great artists from the age when films did not have sound, and yet these magicians had a way to transmit so much to their audiences.
This cinephile is unable to say where the story takes place, but that may be just the point, it is a land where atrocities are committed and leaders abuse and kill their compatriots without consequences and this is the tragic tale of Syria, North Korea and alas, other places in the world.
Inserted in the narrative of human suffering, there is the plight of other intelligent animals-we hear first on the radio and eventually get to see whales that have been found on the beach, where they are in danger of dying.
A new morgue has been opened and very soon, the old one where the protagonist still works will be closed, but before that happens, he finds the body of a beautiful, young woman, who has been murdered, there is blood on her body and her right eye has been probably shot through.
The kind old man takes care of the corpse and goes through the needed motions to pay the last respects and this is not easy because of the terror and the attitude of those in charge, who are suspicious of opposition- which has to be under ground, in a dictatorship, those who antagonize the tyrant are dead or jailed.
There is also the issue of getting permits and the place to bury the dead and for this, the hero has to travel the corridors of a Kafkaesque system, where the available plots are too expensive and the dead cannot be buried.
The woman who works in one of the bureaus that issue permits – or more frequently denies it- becomes a bit more humane, seeing as the old man in front of her has such a compelling air, a face that transmits so much sadness, experience, suffering.
The Morgue Caretaker seems to have been traveling through Hades and back and it must be insisted here that the selection of the leading actor has been tremendous for much of the success of the feature rests on this magnificent performance, subdued, controlled and minimalistic as it is.
Juan Margallo acts perfectly!
By some bizarre game of memory, his fantastic acting recalls two concepts for this viewer…make that three
1. The old indication that for a great performance – or maybe even for a decent one- the actor has to use his thinking, cool head, the brain and not “the heart” and get overwhelmed and tempted to go over the top, which is the definition of cabotinage
2. “Less is more” – this is a quote from Mies van der Rohe and while it was meant to be the secret of astounding architecture, it works very well for stupendous actors as well
3. Finally, one could check the performance of the – overrated?- Matthew McConaughey in Larger Than Life, which seems for the undersigned the archetypal, epitome, quintessential exaggerated, inflated, annoying, obnoxious and pretentious
Oblivion Verses offers Unforgettable moments and a fabulous performance – Juan Margallo is outstanding.