Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Screenwriter: Nacho Vigalondo
Producers: Eduardo Carneros, Esteban Ibarretxe, Javier Ibarretxe
Cast: Karra Elejalde, Barbara Goenaga Candela Fernandez, Nacho Vigalondo
Spain, 2007, 90 min.
*As it happens, this smart, feisty thriller begins quite sedately. Hector sits on a lawn chair outside his country home surveying the nearby hillside through a pair of binoculars. But, catching sight of what appears to be a nude woman amidst the trees, he hikes up to investigate. When he’s attacked by a sinister figure wrapped in a grotesque pink head bandage, Hector takes refuge in a laboratory atop the hill. He tries to elude the stalker by hiding in a peculiar scientific contraption, and moments later, he emerges--only to find that it’s hours earlier. But time has a lot in store for Hector.
Nacho Vigalondo, who directed the ingenious, Oscar-nominated short 7:35 in the Morning, has a great instinct for the aesthetic, moving effortlessly between a tense, disquieting atmosphere and a relentless, driving energy. But drawing from a tradition of more-cerebral science fiction, his story of an ordinary man flung into circumstances far beyond his comprehension (and perhaps his control) is propelled by a deeper curiosity than genre antics alone will satisfy. Ever more desperate to decipher the web of cause and effect surrounding him, Hector becomes increasingly complicit in the very situation he’s trying to escape. Any physicist would tell him that the more you try to fix things, the more they fall apart. When you mess with time, you mess with nature.
*Summary by John Nein, SUNDANCE Film Programmer
Time Crimes played as one of the midnight-series movies at Sundance, and though it is about as efficient and clear as a twisty time-travel film gets, there was just no emotional involvement. You can look at this film as a technical exercise or an experiment in tone, but it is hard to grade something that, by definition of time travel, is all plot with no character development. The plot progression is very logical, though I would argue there is just one too many twists thrown into the end of the film. In addition, the cinematography was very muddy, resulting in a color palette not to be admired.
My favorite part of this film is the play on perception and tone. When the lead character, Hector, first goes through his strange day, there is a horrifying figure that chases him. It is a man whose head is covered with a bloody bandage, with eye holes cut out. This creature is terrifying and unrelenting as he chases Hector around. Once, when Hector peers out the window of the time travel chamber, the bandaged figure jumps up and scares Hector, as well as the audience. However, the second time Hector lives through his day, he gets in a car accident and is forced to put a bandage around his head to stem the bleeding. We learn that the 2nd Hector is the bandaged man and the tone of the same scenes that frightened us before become comical. 2nd Hector runs around in his bandage, trying to do the same things he remembers the bandaged man having down when he was the 1st Hector. When 2nd Hector jumps up in the window, it is funny this time because we now that 2nd Hector is just going through the motions of memory. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is, this film is very clear about explaining its time paradoxes. That is the function of good science fiction, to explore new cinematic ideas or new facets of human nature in fantastical situations. Though there is really no human nature facets explored in this film, but I love it when the audience realizes how a simple change of information can make a sequence horrifying the first time and hilarious the second. It’s a lesson about the difficulties of editing, how delicate it can be to elicit the proper emotion in the audience at the right point in a film.
The actor who plays Hector does change through the film; I just wish it had made more sense. The second time Hector goes through the time machine; he acts very blasé about it, having already gone through the time travel procedure. It just doesn’t ring true to me; that a man would so quickly come to understand the intricacies of his time paradox that the methods would quickly become routine. There are other characters I could mention, but they all seem like plot markers, meant to move the story along, none are given even the slightest bit of character.
I would have liked to have seen this film explore a bit more about the philosophy of time travel. For instance, my favorite moment was when 2nd Hector, in his bandaged head, is trying to recreate a specific moment for 1st Hector. 1st Hector needs to look around a tree at the same moment 2nd Hector spins around to make eye contact with him. 2nd Hector doesn’t know the exact moment he is supposed to spin around, so we see him randomly spinning around the forest, trying to get the moment right. Suddenly he stops, looks around, as if there is something inside him guiding him towards the right moment. He spins around and gets the moment just right for 1st Hector to see from behind the tree. What fascinates me about this moment is that it seems to be an example of pre-destination, of a certain fate. Does this indicate that 2nd Hector would have made the proper move even if he had exercised free will in trying not to? Is he pre-destined to commit the same acts he saw as 1st Hector? Does the universe in Time Crimes operate by pre-destination to avoid a universe-collapsing paradox? These larger, bigger questions always lurk just below the surface of a time-twisting sci-fi film, and this moment in the forest is the only one where the larger philosophical issues are hinted at. I wish these ideas had been brought more the forefront of the film, a decisive declaration on the part of the director on whether he believes in a pre-destined self-correcting universe or one with free will. This all sounds a little heady, but I do like a little bit more revelation in my sci-fi. Time Crimes is certainly a very well-made and well-planned time travel film, but I would have loved to learn more about the characters and the ideas of the filmmakers.