Berlinale 2020 Review: El Prófugo

A woman is under the influence.

First time we see her she is watching a series of close-ups on a movie screen, possibly of a violent or erotic nature. She clasps a hand over her mouth, eyes wide in terror, gasping and pleading, hypnotized by what is happening yet drawing back. Is this a dream, is this really happening? Should we be worried? Soon a voice from the off asks the woman to modify her delivery and we realize this is just a voice-over session. Just?

Sounds can be soothing, they can be terrifying. For Inés (Érica Rivas), a dubbing actor and singer, sound is her life and she may just be losing her grip on it. After her boyfriend’s suicide, Inés’ professional and personal life starts to disintegrate. She is not able to hit the right key at choir practice. Soon enough there is another, foreign frequency, one that jeopardizes the recording sessions. It could be a phone or a pacemaker, sound engineer Nelson opines. The static persists, molding into an eerie voice when pitched down.

It could also be an intruder. Like Inés’ mom (Cécilia Roth) that suddenly turns up to visit her. Or her neighbour that claims to hear her pace up and down at night. It could also be Alberto (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), the organ player, someone that Inés’ mom claims is “the total package”. It could also be the pills Inés takes to deal with trauma. With the help of a fellow voice actress, she embarks on a series of rituals to expel the intruders, with methods that range from scientific to arcane.

Maybe there is nothing to expel in the first place. Natalia Meta situates her movie between mild horror and psychological thriller, rarely relying on shock and working with strong primary reds and blues. Undertones of Lynch and Aronofsky (Black Swan in particular comes to mind) are perceptible, while Meta’s approach could be said to be close to magic realism, a constant shifting and merging of dream and reality. El Prófugo has but a hint of sexuality which is not fully played out, a strangely puritan element in a Faust-esque drama. The tension stays purely auditive and the superb sound engineering and mixing tells a story of its own. An organ that is out of tune. A distant wailing in the street.

In the very beginning of the movie, Inés travels with her manipulative ex-boyfriend, who is anxious to find out who she is talking to in her sleep. He believes that Inés prefers the phantoms over him. In a way, they are more a part of Inés than he could ever be. A comforting, perhaps even feminist thought?

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